Monday, October 12, 2009

Reflections on the West

We drove over 2,500 miles in two weeks from Seattle to San Francisco, taking in four national parks, several state parks, national forests, and scenic drives, as well as more urban areas. This was a whirlwind tour given the vast distances we traveled. We will return some day to spend more time at each place.

We needed more time to walk about downtown Portland, to explore the beaches on the Olympic Peninsula and the lava fields of the Oregon high desert. The trails at Crater Lake, Smith Rock State Park, and Yosemite were left for another time. The Columbia River Gorge is full of trails, waterfalls, overlooks, fish ladders, wind surfers, and so much more to see and do.

Columbia River Gorge

Our journey took us from tide pools full of anemones and starfish in Olympic to the warmer waters of Monterey Bay, home to playful sea otters and hungry brown pelicans.

In Seattle we wandered through the Pike Place Fish Market crowded with other tourists and vendors selling fresh seafood, vegetables, fruits, flowers, crafts, snacks, and peppers of all shapes, colors, and flavors.

We hiked among cool glaciers, tall evergreens and colorful alpine meadows; among volcanoes, calderas, cones, lava fields and other rock formations; and among massive, old Sitka spruce, giant sequoias and western red cedars and trees laden with clubmoss and ferns. We soaked up the solitude of Beach 4 on the Olympic Peninsula and enjoyed the bustling energy of Curry Village in Yosemite Valley. Atop The Watchman, at over 8,000 feet, we looked down into the deep blue waters of Crater Lake.

Dams large and small are visible across the west, the need for power, drinking water, and irrigation continues apace. Seeing a Chinook salmon make its way up a fish ladder at the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River is another reminder of the pressures we place on nature. San Francisco's Chinatown offered a sobering look into one small shop full of shark fins, bird nests, and ginseng. One wonders how the wilds can sustain our needs and desires.

Chinook salmon making its way up the fish ladder
on the Bonneville Dam, Columbia River

The Japanese Garden in Portland lingers in my mind. Our brief visit made special by our good friend Rosemary, who spent 3 years volunteering there as an interpretive guide. The beautiful architecture of the tea room drew us inside. Rosemary spoke of the four, centuries old principles still central to the ceremony -- harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility. Purity referring to "making the tea correctly" and cleansing ones hands and mouth with water from a small stone basin.

Tea House, Portland's Japanese Garden

As a tea ceremony is meant to be,
walking within our National Parks
is also a transformative experience.

Hiking in Mt. Rainier National Park in mid-September

One of the last stops on this two-week adventure was a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The exhibits include live animals, touch pools, outdoor viewing platforms, huge tanks with inner bay and outer bay sea life, the splash zone for kids, sea otters, penguins, and the Seafood Watch with tips on the best ocean-friendly seafood. An exhibit on the secret lives of seashores left us stunned and awed by the beauty and grace of these sea creatures.

The leafy sea dragon is one of the most elegant marine fish (can it really be a fish). Two tiny fins propel it slowly through the water so gently that it looks to be floating. The leafy protuberances, resembling seaweed, serve only as camouflage.

Leafy sea dragon, Monterey Bay Aquarium

Harmony, respect, purity, tranquility and
to all places, people, and animals
that we saw and met on our journey.

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