May 18, 2022

While I fill in for our errant scribe, it is more than filling in because I am so happy to be writing about our house-sitting stays, mostly at our friend Liberty’s house, and our west coast trip. (Details and photos of that trip below.)

The planning Tash and I did in preparation to spend 17 days away—with most every detail of that trip, including its duration—was totally guessed at. We vaguely needed to be back by mid-May to complete the commissioning of our intergalactic vessel, and we vaguely thought about the Seattle/Santa Cruz split, but we also just identified the least expensive days of the week to arrange airfare and off we went.

Prior to traveling to the west coast, we were house-hopping—or as Tasha liked to say “floating on land”—as she was not thrilled about living on a non-sailing sailboat. We had originally planned to winter (mid-October to mid-April) on our boat at DiMillo’s marina in Portland but only did that for 1.5 months because Tasha’s generous 0.5 brother Tyler offered us his boat to live on in Sicily—which we jumped at before he finished the sentence because we both love Italia. Once back, we both recognized our belief that boat life is great but that sailboats are meant to be sailed, and our one passage to Siracusa was not enough. Further, there would be no pre-spring passages once back in still-chilly Portland, and so the piecing together of places to stay until at least the warmth of mid-May was upon us.

Generous couple Simon and Jill, Tasha’s son and daughter-in-law, were still away on their Ski-RV grand tour in the Rockies, so we gratefully luxuriated in their manse on Ocean Avenue in Portland for 3 weeks. This spacious resort was complete with a stand-alone sauna and a home theater. Completely true to form, we basically lived in front of the wood stove adjacent to the wall of glass facing the East 40 that they call a backyard.

We were then to go to Savannah to meet up with my mom and brother, but the former had a stroke and the latter just happened to be calling right as she was fading, so a dynamic helicopter ride ensued instead of a ride in a much slower vehicle. Mom, who is 95, is doing well and is also lucky in that the stroke seems to be mostly just making it hard for her to regain use of her right hand. This might be a blessing in that I hope she’ll quit driving altogether (you still reading this, ma?). So I went south alone, since it was to the hospital, and Tasha stayed at her own home that week, thanks to the generosity of her cousin Joanna, who is renting it but was away that week. The universe just keeps providing.

Transitions take time for Tasha, and we were not thrilled with the upcoming prospects of a week here and a week there for another 9 weeks. Her good friend Liberty was off with Roameo (no typo, this is her homemade converted van) in the southwest. After our own heart, she likes to wander and very possibly said she might be out exploring all winter. A few calls and ground rules later, we had ourselves a cozy place to stay in SoPo (South Portland) for nearly 7 weeks!

I first met Liberty at Dance a year ago, though I hardly knew her when she next appeared. She was out for a walk and stopped by Tasha’s house in SoPo when I was taping together a huge sheet of shrink-wrap, to be a boat cover, in the driveway. A few words later and she was right there with me wrangling plastic and huge rolls of tape as if this was the most fun one could have on a beautiful day.

We also spent a few enjoyable days with Liberty and Roameo at the Swan’s Island Music Festival last summer. It was so great to be out in the hinter lands together, pitching in with the locals helping put on the cooking portion of the event by volunteering in the kitchen. Roameo was a fortuitous addition as Swan’s is bigger than it looks on a map and having a vehicle was the ideal way to get to the venue, the after-parties, and other sights.

One house rule of Liberty’s proved serendipitous for us: no meat or fish in the house. Why not, we said, as we had toyed with the idea of eating healthier before. Tasha introduced me to the movies Food Inc. and Food Choices, and I was instantly sold on giving up these and other “factory” foods. Not only was the food over the next 6 weeks nutritious and delicious, but even when buying better produce, our groceries are less expensive. Thank you, thank you, generous Liberty!

It was now April 15 and time to move Nirvana out of our slip at DiMillo’s marina. Though we had sold our mooring off Spring Point last year, we had been in touch with the next (and next!) owner of it and asked permission to moor there until we got back from our West Coast trip. This was largely because we knew the ease with which we could row ashore there and safely leave our dinghy on the beach, and because very few people in Maine put their boats in before Memorial Day anyway. Not only did the owner say yes but we got Tom Simpson, the old salt mooring diver and inspector, to get “our” ball in the water early enough that we could tie up to it before we left.

* * * * *

First stop on our west coast jaunt was Seattle, which was great. We stayed with Tasha’s stepmom, Sandy, mom to Tasha’s brothers Tyler, owner of the boat we stayed on in Sicily and Jason. Generous Sandy was like a college roommate and shared her house with us with such ease. Tasha credits Sandy with giving her her aesthetic eye, and Sandy’s living room addition was full of the Pacific Northwest wood detailing that make Seattle’s modest houses so gorgeous. Tasha has a fair number of Sandy recipes she’s shared with me, and I can see why she’s saved them. Sandy took us to a “moveable feast” art show dispersed through several neighborhoods and to the family cabin on Puget sound, built by hand by Sandy’s father in the 30s. She also generously gave us a car to use to see Seattle and the farm…

Pike Place Market

Seattle Center

The Family Cabin on Puget Sound

Local Roots Farm is brother Jason and Siri’s, a thinking person’s organic spread on 80 acres just 30 minutes from Seattle but in a lush valley such that it feels a world apart. We had several lovely occasions to spend time with the—yes, you guessed it—generous couple and their two bright-eyed kids,10-year-old Felix and 8-year-old Bea. We toured the farm and ate fresh rapini that we’d snap off as we walked; I learned to fish on the banks of the Snoqualmie River with Felix; we heard the ongoing education they received from working the earth the right way; we spent an afternoon at a tulip festival and a riverside seafood shack; and, of course, Tasha had the kids under her spell and learning to use a digital camera. Thanks S+J for the wonderful meals and jamming into the school night with chords that were mostly right and instrument players who were mostly just playing for fun.

The Farm Family

Tulip Festival in Mount Vernon

We could have spent more time in Port Townsend, Washington, a lovely sailing village with enough wooden boats to make you think you were still in Maine . . . except for those ginormous mountains looming overhead across the water. As it was, we got to see Mary, one of Tasha’s college roommates, and her lovely cottage and her love, the Recovery Cafe, a safe place and community for any who are in recovery. We could have joined the T-bird racers in the evening, but the nip in the air had us yearning for the lovely country apartment Tasha had arranged for us.

Whirl-wind still whirring, we jetted down to Santa Cruz which I didn’t realize on the outskirts of Silicon Valley. Real estate is nearing tulip-mania prices, but our hosts, generous Jeanine and Eric (eh-reek, if you speak French) have their heads screwed on right, see things for what they are, and get out in nature plenty. Thanks to another car loaner and e-bikes, we managed to get out and enjoy the rugged California coast. I’ll never forget the seals meandering around the local marina slips, or the sea otters playing around right below our observation platform at Moss Landing.

Moss Landing and Santa Cruz

Jeanine and Eric also allowed us to stay at their Round House getaway in more rural Corralitos. A respite from all the visiting we had done, we slowed down (except for our dancing!) and enjoyed the local, more Mexican flavors del dia. Perched up high on a hill, and even higher on their 3rd-level deck, we were almost on par with the circling birds of prey—their lack of wing flapping in contrast with the huge swirling, dancing Eucalyptus trees was a mesmerizing sight.

We got to see long-no-see friend Amos, with whom I played soccer at Virginia, and caught up a tiny bit and of course, acknowledged there would be plenty more in the future as we only scratched the surface of things, like his running with the bulls (…”they pass by your throng in 5 seconds; not really a ‘run with’…”) in Pamplona.

It’s the landscape that imprinted itself on me during this trip. The built-up areas are what they are, and Seattle is booming with grace, but it is the natural grand scale that hit me, so different from the intimate tree-boughed spaces we have in the east. With Redwoods tripling the height of our (still tall at 80′) oaks and maples, a walk in the western woods is often monumental in scale, and even in the densest of forests, vistas can be quite far. The mountains are really big and in-your-face, not a distant, blue-hazed affair like the Blue Ridge Mountains of the Appalachias. It feels like the entire northern California coast is unbuilt, with one national or state park after another making Route 1 on the coast a continuous open air, sage brushed ranch that rolls over the modest unpreposing highway and suddenly over a cliff to crunch into craggy rocks and the sea.

Wet-suited, cold-water surfers dot some of these craggy rock “beach” areas, and you realize the surfers tempt those rocks because the surf comes in just the right way in only certain places. While of course there are big population centers, I think now of the vast amounts of open space and why the outdoorsy types flock there.

I am reminded of Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson and how the Pacific Northwest landscape was such a big character in the book: to write about the area without invoking the feeling of the land would be just another mystery novel.

I also particularly liked the changeable weather, rather than the oft-mentioned warmth of the weather. Moisture in the fog (despite the ongoing drought, still growing plenty of things), temperature drops, the fresh breezes, the need for layered clothing. Much more to like than what I experienced in LA.

I don’t know what else Tasha and I might say about it—it will develop in us over time as we enjoy the prospect of going back…

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