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19 July 2015 @ 02:58 pm
Oregon Vacation  
I tend to write pretty detailed posts about my vacations because even though they're mostly only of interest to me, I like to have a record for when I go back and reread old posts. But this time I was gone for two weeks and, taking into account how verbose my blog posts tend to be, a detailed account of everything I did would run for 10,000 words and be exhausting to write, so I'm going to do what I did when we first moved to Japan and didn't have any internet and write a series of smaller segments and put them all in one post.

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One of the things that softlykarou and I would always do when we'd go to a temple in Japan is check to see if they were serving tea. A lot of places would let you pay ¥500 and get a cup of matcha with wagashi on the side, which we always called "tea and sweet" based on a sign in one of the temples we visited. The first day in Portland (Sunday the 5th), we went to Lan Su Chinese Garden and found they had a tea house on the premises, and so we took up our old tradition:


Tea and sweet!

We got the oolong flight, and there was a lot more tea than I expected and we couldn't finish it all, so we took the remainder back with us so I'd have tea to drink. We ate the whole sweet, though, while looking out the window at the garden and sipping our tea. Serene.

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Why does it have to be roses? Why can't it be garbage cans?
-overheard, International Rose Test Garden


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When I saw Mount Rainier through the trees as we drove up the slopes toward Paradise, snow-capped, with clouds curling about its shoulders, I thought "Huh. That looks like Skyrim," because I've played games for so long they form an indelible part of the way I view the world. But of course, the chain actually runs the other way. The reason the mountains in Skyrim look great is because that's much closer to what mountains actually look like than in games that came before it.


Kyne's breath on the Throat of the World.

Closer, but it still can't really capture the weight a mountain has. 1080p is great and all, but no at-home screen is big enough to capture what it feels like to look up and see the mountain going onward, filling up the sky. I took pictures of Fujisan when I climbed it, and anyone looking at them now would just see a bunch of rocks. It doesn't capture the feeling of the ascent, or how I would climb over a ridge and think that I had to be getting closer only to find that it was just an outcropping and the mountain continued up for what seemed like just as far as it had when I first looked up from the trail.

Some pictures are worth a thousand words, but for some things words and pictures both are insufficient, no matter the exchange rate.

Minor, less, portentous aside: I came here once before when I was a child, but my sister and I absolutely refused to climb any part of the mountain. My father went off and hiked for a bit while my mother entertained us with a picnic. This time, I hiked up just past the snow line. How things change.

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I liked the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Museum well enough, but one of the problems I had with its portrayal of Japanese-American history is that it reaches the internment camps and then pretty much stops. I'm not surprised that most of the exhibit is devoted to the camps, because they're a hugely defining moment in Japanese-American history and their effects still reverberate today in the way that Portland has a Chinatown (perfunctory though it may be) but it doesn't have a nihonmachi. But it makes it seem like that was the end of Japanese-American history in Oregon. Was it? I don't know. The exhibit mentioned that a lot of people moved east after the war because there were too many bad memories, but what about the people who stayed behind? It doesn't say.

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I always forgot how much I like being in nature until I'm there. Maybe it's because I shun the sunlight and the heat, and so the subset of nature that I actually enjoy being in is relatively small. But today (Thursday the 9th) we spent a lot of time hiking around the waterfalls in the Columbia River gorge, and the trails were all in Pacific northwestern forests, all tall moss-covered trees and ferns and contrasting light and shadow from the sunlight through the trees. Phrases like "the cathedral of the forest" are really cliché, but it's a good way to describe how I feel about it.


In the shadow of the trees.


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I don't usually think of Oregon as a desert. Since my grandparents lived in Florence, whenever we'd go to visit them we'd spend almost all of our time on the coasts, visiting the small towns and going to what we called the "real beach," and we almost never went back over the Cascades except when it was time to go back home. I think of Oregon as one huge pine forest with cliffs leading down to the ocean and the salt tang of the sea in the air, but as the maps in the High Desert Museum show, this is a pretty narrow view of the state. It's only really true for the west side of the mountains, which isn't much.

I suppose it's much the same as the way that I think of Illinois as being basically Chicago and its suburbs, even though most of the state is rural farmland. And the rural farmland begins only a few miles from where I grew up, but I never went that way. Out of sight, out of mind.

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Whoa, Travis. This is sweet, bro.
-overheard, Obsidian Fields, Newberry National Volcanic Monument


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At the Crater Lake visitors center, softlykarou and I saw a woman about our age walking with her S.O. and wearing an Imperial Japanese hachimaki. Does she know what it means? Can she read the kanji written on it (I couldn't--she was too far away and we were going in opposite directions)? Is she just wearing it because she thinks the sunburst pattern looks cool? We will never know.

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I wrote above about the cathedral of the forest and pictures being unable to convey the scope of what those physically present would see, but today (Sunday the 12th) we took a brief detour south into California to visit a redwood grove. That's the real manifestation of both of those principles.


This is the best I can do.


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We stopped for Dairy Queen blizzards on the way up the Oregon coast. I used to love doing that as a child, and I remember that my sister and I would always ask how long until the next Dairy Queen or whether we were going to stop for Dairy Queen that day. It turns out that it was a memory better left to its own time. After years of eating mostly local frozen custard from place that makes it al in-house or buying full-fat dairy organic ice cream, Dairy Queen just tastes...well, weak. It's sweet, but it doesn't have the creaminess that ice cream should have.

It's like when softlykarou and I went to Chili's after coming back from Japan and I got what had been my favorite meal, only to find that it was disgustingly sweet and we never went back. So long, Dairy Queen. There are other ice creams than these.

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It's true what they say about smells carrying memories. I didn't realize that my parents' house had a specific smell associated with it until I moved out after I married softlykarou and moved out, but I've always known that my grandparents' house in Oregon had a smell associated with it. A lot of that must have been the smell of the Oregon coast, because when we arrived at the house we're staying at last night and looked around, I could smell that same smell.

The house is just down the road from where my grandparents lived, maybe four blocks away, though without a road connection since they lived in a retirement subdivision called Greentrees. It does have a back deck that's right on the Siuslaw River, though, with a set of stairs that leads down to the small beach along the river's edge. softlykarou and I walked along the sand last night as the sun set, the river flowing slowly as the tide came in, and I told her about coming down to that beach to walk when I was a child. I used to go for walks around Greentrees, and while I'd mostly just walk around the neighborhood I'd come down to the river and stand there sometimes, watching the sunset. Doing that again with my wife may be one of my favorite moments so far this trip.

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I forgot how much I hate driving or being driven until this trip. Small trips are fine, but over the last week I've probably spent a good 40 or 50 hours in a car and at this point I'm about ready to run screaming whenever I hear a car door open. Fortunately, today (Monday the 13th) we're going to pick up my sister from the airport in Portland, and after that the only trips we'll be taking are to relatively local destinations within an hour or so away. That I can probably deal with. But this is reminding me once again how happy I am to live in a city that has working mass transit.

It doesn't help that my parents and I have very different ideas on what a vacation should be like. They're fine with eating snack bars from chain grocery stores while on the road, whereas for me, eating at local restaurants is a vital part of actually visiting a place. Since they're the ones paying on this trip, they win, and it means a lot of meals are snack bars and packaged chocolate while in the car. Probably my least favorite cuisine.

This was written after spending twelve hours (and no lunch) on a drive that should have taken half that long.

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War may never change, but everything else does.

Yesterday (Monday the 13th), on the way back from picking up my sister at the airport in Portland, we drove down the Oregon coastline. And while the drive was long and annoying, we did get a chance to stop at Cape Foulweather, which was one of my favorite stopping places as a child. First, I should mention that at least in my experience, the name is false advertising. I don't know what it was like when Captain Cook first sighted it from his ship, but every time I've been there the weather's been like this:


Fair is foul and foul is fair.

At worst, it's maybe a little windier.

The reason I always used to like it is because of the gift shop, which had glass fishing floats, seashells, myrtlewood tableware and sculptures, and all sorts of things that smaller me found incredibly cool but never would have actually used for anything. Now that I have the chance to have a myrtlewood plate and eating utensil set, I went in and found that they had removed almost all of the gift shop part and most of it was just empty space. There were some clothes for sale, a single row of seashells, and one artist's myrtlewood items, and that was it. I guess they wanted to provide more viewing space for tourists, or maybe the items weren't selling that well, but the store was the same every single time I went there for decades and now that I can finally both appreciate and take advantage of it, it's gone.

Figures.

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Today (Tuesday the 14th) we went to what I always called the "real beach" in contrast to the Siuslaw River beach near my grandparents' house, but which is more properly called Heceta Head Beach. I would effectively spend entire vacations there--we'd wake up, go to the beach, come home and eat lunch, go to the pool in Greentrees, come home for dinner, play games or sit around and read, go to sleep, and repeat. We'd take my grandfather's World War II entrenching tools and use them to build a small dam across the stream that spilled down from the headland where Heceta Head Lighthouse stands.

We didn't have the entrenching tool this time--I asked my father and he doesn't know what happened to them--but we did hike up to the lighthouse and look around in the pine forest, as well as walk around the beach. softlykarou went shell-hunting and found some to take home, as well as the skull of some rodent that I'm convinced she should put on her desk to terrify those of her students who would benefit from a little terror. We went around one of the beach's corners looking for life in the tide pools, but only found some tiny mussels and a few anemones stubbornly clinging to the rocks in defiance of all the tourists who come through, and we climbed the log that's still bridging the river next to the cliff on the opposite side.


Scenic.

As we were leaving, my father mentioned that they came to this beach to scatter my grandfather's ashes.

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softlykarou and my father are playing a card game, my sister is playing Theme Hospital on her laptop, my mother is watching House Hunters, and I'm playing iOS games. This is pretty much the ideal of being alone together for an introvert like me.

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One thing I've never really done before is go to Florence's downtown and look around. There's plenty of cute little shops and restaurants there, by the docks on the Siuslaw, but of course whenever I'd come here in the past we had grandma's cooking to eat so we never went out to restaurants. This time is different, and when our original plans were scuttled by my sister waking up late and having to be around for a job interview at four o'clock, softlykarou and I took the opportunity to look around and eat at one of the restaurants down there.

It was nothing super amazing, but I wasn't really expecting it to be. The most notable thing is that I ordered fish and it actually tasted like fish. It seems like too many restaurants bow to the American hatred of the "fishy taste" and work to do everything to get rid of it, but not this one. Coupled with the herbed brown rice that came with it and the crusty sourdough with pesto and garlic spreads appetizer we ordered, it left an extremely good impression with me. Which is good since it might be the only time I ever eat here.

We also bought a clay pot that says "garlic" on it, so there will no longer be cloves of garlic scattered around our kitchen and refrigerator.

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Parting with friends is a sadness. A place is only a place.
— Frank Herbert, Dune
I read an article a few months ago about how Frank Herbert had gotten the idea to write Dune while doing geological journalism around Florence and the local library had an exhibit on it. When we got here, there was a note in the house we're staying in that one of Herbert's daughters lived across the cul-de-sac from here and she donated a number of books and items to the library. I checked the library's website and found out that sure enough, there's an exhibit. Tonight we went to go see it, after initially trying earlier in the day and finding that the room was closed due to meetings being held there.

It was everything I figured it would be. Movie posters, a chunk of Herbert's library, pictures of the author, recordings (on records!) of Herbert reading parts of his books, and editions in other languages, including some in Japanese:


I love how the furigana says "Padishah Emperor."

I'm amazed that I came here every summer for years and never knew about this. It's not like I didn't know about Dune then--I first read it in middle school. I guess I was too busy reading other fantasy and sci fi books, quite a few of which aren't on the shelves anymore, or at least not at this library. That was one of the first things we checked.

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As much of a city mouse as I am, I admit that one of the nice things about country living is being able to see the stars. The other side of the Siuslaw from Florence is undeveloped sand dunes, so softlykarou, my father, and I took the opportunity to go out onto the back deck and look at the night sky. No picture, because my iPhone camera would have just showed a solid black field, but it was bright enough that we picked out several constellations with the aid of an app my father downloaded that used his phone gyroscope and GPS to tell us what all the stars were. I can recognize the Big Dipper and Cassiopeia, but that's about it, so having the app tell us that we were looking at Scorpius and Antares and Arcturus was incredibly helpful.

I think I saw a shooting star, but it might have just been a wisp of cloud passing over a star seen from the corner of my eye.

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Today (Thursday the 16th) we went to Cape Arago south of Florence. For some reason I never ended up developing a cutesy name for it, even though we went every year for a picnic and half an hour spent climbing around the rocks at the bottom of the cliff. We did the same thing this year, but the pickings were slim. A few sea urchins hidden in crevices in the rocks and the island just offshore with seals all over its sandy shore were about all we found down there, though it was nice to discover that all of us were just as good at clambering around sharp cliffs as were we the last time we were here. softlykarou even managed it in sandals with only a few scrapes.

The exciting part was when we got back up to the top of the cliff and thus in cell phone service range. My father got a text from my mother that there was a whale in the cove. None of us had seen it while we were down on the beach, but we found it without too much trouble from the cliff top. I actually think it might be the first time I've seen a whale in person. It was just a few spouts and a brief view of its back as it dove for more food, but still. Magnificent.

Of course, me being me, my next thought was, "If I have children, the whales will probably all be dead by the time they're my age."

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Here's the spot where my sister and I always used to wait while our parents would walk around the garden:


A nice color gradient on the water there.


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The rest of my family is gone at the moment, but I decided not to go to the tidepool beach--not sure what it's actually called--because I needed some time alone. I'm not used to spending all this time around people without a break anymore, and my nerves are at the edge every once in a while. Fortunately, no one said anything when I said I was going to stay home. I made breakfast alone, watched the sunlight on the river as I ate, and walked around a bit until everyone got back. It was lovely.

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This afternoon (Friday the 17th), we went to Honeyman Campground for a bit. The main reason we always went there as children is mostly because it's close to Florence, but it is a nice place to spend an afternoon. There's a lake with trails around it, forested paths with picnic tables where we used to eat lunch, though today we ate before we went, and a large section of sand dunes. softlykarou, my sister, and I all climbed up the dunes to look at the landscape beyond before getting sand-blasted by the wind and then running all the way down to the end of the water.


Arrakis, halfway to reclamation.

After that we walked around to the other side of the lake and rented a canoe for an hour. softlykarou and I took the first half hour of that, and it was perfectly lovely once we managed to achieve some kind of rhythm. I'm stronger than softlykarou, but the real problem was just that my arms were so much longer that I had much better leverage, and we ended up doing a lot of spinning in circles until we worked out our differences.

After half an hour, we rowed back to shore and turned it over to my father and my sister, who seemed to get the hang of rowing together much faster than we did, and then we all headed back to the house.

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We spent a lot of time at my grandparents' house on their old Apple II playing games, but when I tried to replicate that on this trip I found out that VirtualApple.org doesn't work at all on iPads. Fortunately, my sister brought her laptop with her and offered to let me use it. You can read all about that here.

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And that was our trip! It's pretty much a whirlwind tour of all the things that we did for years on all the various trips to Oregon, and I'm really glad that softlykarou got to experience them with me. Maybe we'll go back some time, just the two of us, and eat our way through northern and western Oregon. But for now, it's good to be home.

 
 
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