Pacific North West of North America
June / July 2012
We went to inspect Oregon and adjacent regions.
Our Michael and his wife Katherine have been working at scientific research there at Oregon State University and are leaving soon to go back to Oz, so we went to visit and have a look around and try to decide whether Americans are God's Gift or a blight.
I'd agreed to go to a place where there are reputed to live 350 million people, against my innate curmudgeonly inclination, on condition that we book premium economy airplane seats because I refuse to have my kneebone jammed into my thighbone jammed into my hipbone for 13 hours.
Checking in online the night before we flew, our seat allocations seemed to have been changed. That was a worry because Tina had chosen them for their position behind a bulkhead where there's extra legroom. Different aircraft have different seating plans and it's hard to tell but there seemed to be a possibility that the new seats were in business class so we were entertaining a shy hope. We got to the airport early and put on our sweetest demeanors for the check in lady who confirmed that yes we had complimentary upgrades to business class without even asking so we tried to give her a kiss but she said that wouldn't be necessary.
So we sloped into the Qantas Club lounge all insouciant as though we belonged there and had a nice breakfast before boarding at our leisure. Then we were settled in with a "Good morning Mr. and Mrs. Collett, would you care for a champagne or a juice?" We declined the fizz, thinking we'd time our run with the free booze to fit comfortably around dinner and maybe help get some sleep in the second half of the journey. Dinner wasn't that long in commencing and we accepted a fizz as we slid over Fiji. Now Billecart Salmon is very nice fizz but this one wasn't quite cold enough and it's a bit too darn fizzy if it's not really cold, feels like it's going to blow your ears out. Tina was then quite pleased with a Sauvignon Blanc and I tried a chardy but it was a bit coarse. I had hopes for the McLaren Vale cab sav but it was too young and scratchy so then it came down to the shiraz. Fortunately that was acceptable and several refills were permitted. The sticky with dessert was nice but a bit jammy and nowhere near as elegant as brother Scott's Woodstock Botrytis Semillon. By now we were feeling pleasantly mellow and dozy although I had to get quite stern with the waiter about desisting from filling my glass so high with cognac. The waiters were mortified that they ran out of my preferred entree of prawn salad and I had to make do with a pumpkin soup instead and they insisted on presenting us on disembarking with a package of two bottles of Billecart and one of shiraz to try to make it up to us.
Some upgrade. If the good folk at Qantas ever feel the need to give us another upgrade I guess we'll fain accede.
LA airport is grim and grimy. Not a very delightful entry to the country. Portland was much prettier and looked even more toyland than towns previously viewed from above because the trees are all bright green and symmetrical. Makes it all look manicured and twee compared to the magnificently ragged ratty grey trees of Oz.
The B & B we stayed in for our first night looked a bit twee at first glance because it was in a grand old house with much ornamentation, friezeified wainscoting, historical photographs and general tiz, but on examination it became obvious that all that stuff was genuine replication (preservation more accurately) of the style of an era rather than the faux aping of bygone style which is the normal basis of twee. Seems some Americans are proud of their cultural and political heritage in spite of the best efforts of the fashionably educated.
Michael and Katherine picked us up the next morning and drove us over the mountains to Bend, where we took possession of our home for the next month.
The American RV is a major cultural foundation. Motor Home. House, with all the accoutrements, on wheels. They range in size from what we would call camper vans to what we would call buses or coaches with slide out compartments which expand lounges, bedrooms etc. to house like proportions. Ours is fairly bussy, measuring thirty feet long, twelve feet high and eight feet wide, plus slide outs as above. All the facilities of home. Nearly as complicated as a cruising boat with multiple integrated systems of generating two kinds of electricity, heat, cool, refrigeration, cooking, washing, waste management and entertainment, powered down the road by umpteen cylinders burning large quantities of cheap american gasoline. Fortunately peak oil theory is discredited, rendered redundant by new discoveries and extraction technologies. We are about to enjoy a new age of cheap energy which might buy us time to repair some of the damage done to our economies and production capabilities by the lunacies of the green, environmental and global warming movements. And address the real problems of poverty, disease and pollution. See this link;
Bad luck for the Arab oildoms who in general haven't had the sense to use their rivers of gold to develop any real productivity or modernize their archaic social and cultural structures.
So we'll be happy enough to buy enough gasoline to push this palatial pantechnicon where we want to go. Bit of a pig to drive. Feels like a bathtub on top of grandma's old sprung pram, sloshing and swaying along the wrong side of the road. The effects of windage and proximity of mountain precipices conspired to elicit occasional shrieks of terror from the passenger seat but after a few days they muted to mere whimpers
Snow capped mountains, conifer forests and rushing rivers.
The team players bounce through the rapids and the proud and independent loners get into strife. This applies only to white water rafting.
We spent a few days in Corvallis, a university town south of Portland where M & K have been working, and helped them pack up and move some of their stuff to Portland for shipping back to Oz. They are moving back there after making a road trip across the country, some of it coinciding with ours in this NW corner of it. The Pacific North West, they call it here.
Corvallis is real nice. Real pretty. Big trees all over, oaks, maples, birches, pines and what all, maybe even larches, beeches and spruces for all I know, and the gardens are full of blueberries, strawberries, foxgloves and all kinds of real purty stuff we've never seen before. Squirrels, woodpeckers, deer. Eighteen hours of daylight. Took a couple of weeks for my sense of direction to start making sense of the sun arcing across the southern sky.
Crater Lake is a super sized Mt. Gambier Blue Lake, with snow. Snow higher than our bus along the road up to the rim around the crater. The wind was so chilling upon my headbone that I could only stay outside for a few minutes. Tina, with a fine head of hair and fluffy jacket, managed a few minutes longer, but not many. Photos, ooh and arh and gasp and back inside. This is a few days after the longest day of the year. About 45 degrees North, it is, half way between the equator and the pole. Hobart is 42 South. And Crater Lake's rim is at elevation 2300 meters, about the same as Mt. Kosciusko (lat 36 degrees S.) Certainly not a suitable place for human habitation. And it's a volcano, probably blow any minute, so hardly even a suitable place for human visiting. So we slid down off that mountain and made camp on a lake, looking back up at the snowy mountains. Up is the correct way to look at snowy mountains. Not down into, or even along. Up from below is more civilized. Greatly overrated, snowy mountains. Scenic, sure. Good place for snow and whatever critters like being very cold and that sort of thing.
Lakes, forest, rivers, waterfalls.
Drove up through Washington State and Seattle and got ferried to San Juan Island where the caravan park - RV Park in US language - was a lakeside summer camp resort sort of joint abuzz with a happy throng of American families playing summer camp games. Very jolly. We were there at 4 July and went down to the marina at nearby Friday Harbour to see what was happening. There were bands, parades, hoopla and carousing happening. Very celebratory.
The boats were decorated with patriotically festive fluffery and there were little parties everywhere. Lots of Stars and Stripes bikinis. And canapes and fizzy drinks. Americans are very good at celebrating their prosperity. And good on them. No sign of economic woe in that marina.
From Friday Harbour we took a boat trip around San Juan Island to see some orcas. Felt a bit funny being on the other side of the table as day tripping tourists taking a boat ride after seeing so many tourists herded on and off boats in the Whitsundays, but it was great to see the orcas.
Ferry again to the city of Victoria on Vancouver Island. Victoria will forever remain in our memories as the home of the Butchart Gardens. They are glorious. Pulchritudinous. A must see if you're ever over that way.
We lingered quite a while.
Katherine & Michael & Tina in chocolate box flowerland
The park we stayed at in Victoria also happened to be next to a marina, which had floating houses as well as boats.
Floating houses tied up in a marina.
Cruised up Vancouver Island aways and then ferried again over to Vancouver City. Quite a handsome city - harbour, big bridge, almost as pretty as Sydney.
Our RV Park in Vancouver
The park was at the other end of this bridge, looking north.
At the south end of the bridge is Stanley Park. We rode bicycles over the bridge and around the park and had a fun day. Kept a wary lookout out for wildlife after we saw this sign.
One side of Stanley Park had a beach.
This miserable little patch on the side of Stanley Park is one of Vancouver's main beaches. There aren't too many others. Poor wretches are making the most of a rare sunny day but you notice that nobody is actually in the water. It's bloody freezing.
From Vancouver we headed for the mountains again. Whistler is a brash new snow sports town built for the 2010 Olympics. A young punks' extreme winter sports play hard party hard scene. In a very spectacular setting with mountains all around. We stayed in a park that was elevated up the side of the valley enough to have a grand view of mountains all around.
Black bear, who happens to be brown. We saw about half a dozen one evening. Eating grass. They may eat fish and campers and berries and whatnot but they eat lots of grass too.
Now this part of the earth's crust is very wrinkly and it gets lots of rain and is well forested and not very developed so these few snaps might well be pretty but they leave the question of whether Americans are God's Gift or a blight unanswered. Not that the silly rhetorical question can be answered. Our trip was all about scenery and apart from some of M & K's friends who we greatly enjoyed meeting in Corvallis, we didn't really meet anybody. You get interactions with shopkeepers, waiters, ticket sellers and neighbours in the parks, enough to form a few impressions, but we weren't particularly looking for more contact than that and it didn't happen. So we have no revealing sketches of the American character to share with you. You'd want to be careful, though, about people who do so many things arse about. Drive on the wrong side of the road, push light switches up to turn them on, call a kettle a teapot and in their funny way show their greatest concern at all times in the question of what kind of day you are going to have. And that's everybody, not just tippees. The tipping system is tiresome but you have to figure it out and go along with it because lots of people in service industries get paid 2 or 3 dollars an hour and rely on tips to put burgers on their table and get shoes for their kids. So 15 to 20% is mandatory. Lots of things are cheaper than in Oz, especially gasoline and shoes. You can get anything you want, except a chat with somebody who doesn't care whether you are going to have a great day or not.
Many believe that the US empire is fading, its economy and culture declining. My impression is that it's a bit early to make that call. They aint done yet. And even if they are in decline they are such a vigorous and robust society that they will be subdued by any forces internal or external only if those forces are huge and sustained beyond anything the world has yet seen. They won't give up quietly. In my experience the hardest creature to kill of all those that have succumbed to my lifelong quest to explore the culinary potential of things has been the octopus. You have to chop an octopus into pieces.
The US is a supersized bionic octopus, currently developing huge new energy resources.
Now to close this chapter and apropos of nothing I include a poem.
A poem? Well you might ask because I generally just don't get poetry, try as I may, but this one just kind of spoke to me.
It hasn't got anything to do with visiting the US, or maybe it might, I dunno.
The Factoid Multi - Universe
He has been struck by lightning, the unfortunate postilion,
As scorch marks on his skull and feet indupitably show.
Poor Albert Trott once struck a ball clean over Lord's pavilion;
No one has yet repeated this unprecedented blow.
In seconds (twenty billion to the power of twenty billion)
Vile entropy will put a stop to everything we know.
The General Good is not the same as what is good for all.
The mills of God grind slowly but they grind exceeding small.
Praise-God MacArthur got the dumb bum's rush from Harry Truman.
The world, said Wittgenstein, is everything that is the case.
All dragons, snakes and crocodiles fall prey to the ichneumon;
They flee in fear and trembling if they meet him face to face.
I heard it on the grapevine, Elvis Presley was a woman;
That premise granted, many other facts fall into place.
I've quite forgotten where it was I heard it or I read it.
Some stories have the ring of truth and some you'd barely credit.
Black holes are the invention of Professor Stephen Hawking;
The good Lord knows (and no one else) what sort of bill they fill.
Some say God's not a gambler but it's just the whisky talking;
When the devil drives the tumbrel let the cards fall where they will.
If your name is Long John Silver you must change your way of walking
Down that crowd-compelling platform where they take the Train for Ill.
There are facts and there are factoids, there is can and there is can't.
There are things you wish were true but they unfortunately aren't.
Why did Gustav Holst equate the horrid Jupiter with jollity--
That double dealing rapist with his lack of self-control?
Have the Ministers and Elders of the Presbyterian polity
Allotted every sin to its concordant pigeonhole?
Does the world consist of monads, which, though differing in quality,
Are infinite in number and possess their share of soul?
The mover of the Cosmos is a monkey in a suit.
There's an information overload, these files do not compute.
You can scry it in the crystal, you can taste it in the water,
You can spell it in the tea-leaves, you can sniff it in the smoke.
Cut out this booze and buggery, invest in bricks and mortar;
A wife and child is what you need to stop you going broke.
Our life is short, the poet says, and yours is getting shorter;
Just what will you have done, my son, before you bloody croak?
The truth is as we say it is. In God we place our trust.
Don't meddle. Things could swiftly go spectacularly bust.