I’m writing this from the sky after (finally) spending two weeks in the Pacific Northwest.
Having been told by everyone and their suspenders-wearing uncle that Portland was the place for me, I was excited to finally see the magic land where I would supposedly fit right in. Of course, the forecast for 40-degree drizzle rain for a full five days on my arrival was a little less titillating, especially since my original intent was to road trip all the way up to Seattle and possibly Vancouver. I also caught a pretty mean cold a whole forty-eight hours before my departure.
Part of the challenge and beauty of travel is that it’s never what you think it’ll be. Usually, it’s better.
I ended up staying fairly close to Portland. I was too busy wandering with my mouth dumbly open at Powell’s, reconnecting with a whole slew of old friends (and making some pretty spiffy new ones), and drinking amazing coffee to get too far — though I did head out to the coast to do some breathtaking hikes, take the cheesy (literally) Tillamook tour, and then wend my way back through wine country. Shocking, I know.
Of course, I’ve been gone for two weeks and there’s way too much to say, but I’ll try to keep some of it: The way it smelled of rain as soon as I got off the plane, somehow so like my childhood — even though my rain was southern and subtropical. The (tall, muscular, Algerian, kind) Lyft driver who told me not to go to the northernmost neighborhoods, but then laughed when he told me he lives there: “Do you see my face? I am safe.” All the signs in Portland declaring spaces inclusive or safe or welcoming or certified green, or saying “Don’t you dare park here,” or self-identifying as #positivitypropaganda. The La Croix cans clutched in hands or crushed on the street. The insane generosity of friends I haven’t seen in years, and of their family members; Piper’s aunt’s dog — I forget the breed, but something like a long-haired greyhound — named Pelican. How her beautiful white fur instantly covered my clothing when she came up and gave me a lean-hug, just like Odin. Hiking up to Bagby only to find the springs overrun, then returning after a night curled in a borrowed sleeping bag in the back of an Alaskan boy’s car. Rubbing the backs of my ankles raw in size-11 XtraTufs. Sliding through a steep (and privately-owned) backyard on Mount Tabor to avoid hiking all the way down to the bus stop that was right there, and right next to a wine bar called, simply, Cheese. The combination video-and-spice shop at Yachats. Like Ya-Hots. When ya hots, ya hots! How the whole of the town of Tillamook smelled of farmland. The lines of baby Christmas trees covering the innumerable Christmas tree farms in the countryside around Portland, and the ensuing year-round scent of evergreen.
One Oregon thing you should definitely know about — and easily one of the best parts of my trip — was a woman named Rose and her incredible project, Helping Hands Horse Rescue and Equine Therapy.
I already knew I’d lucked out when I scored a beautiful, private Airbnb smack-dab in the middle of the acclaimed Ribbon Ridge AVA (a prized subsection of the already-awesome Willamette Valley), within walking distance of about ten wineries.
But then I actually met Rose, who told me how she hosts WWOOFers and teaches them proper nutrition; how they always eat together, and only what they can grow or raise there. (She gave me a pair of duck eggs for breakfast on my first morning, blue and brown and perfect and lovely and so incredibly delicious, just fried up by themselves, I felt like I’d never eaten eggs before.) She showed me the farm’s new, 10-day-old filly and told me how she works with licensed therapists to help families, couples, kids with ADHD, and those in addiction recovery, all through the magic of simply being around animals.
“The people who come to this place are usually searching,” she said. “And they’re usually at least a little bit better-equipped when they leave.”
I’d believe it. The landscape itself is stunning – there’s little better than waking up to see llamas and goats and grapevines out your window, to pet a horse’s velvet nose before you’ve even had caffeine.
But that’s not it.
It’s something about her generosity, and the cooperation and perseverance of the volunteers who work so hard to keep the farm afloat. It’s real-life magic. The effect is so overwhelming, I didn’t even crack a smile when she told me, in earnest, that the copse of trees in the distance was an enchanted forest.
“Really. There are fairies there,” she said.
Maybe the same is true of all of Oregon.