I’m East of Acadia, if not quite Eden

I like to think that natural beauty can be found anywhere, but I have to admit that too often, what’s happened is that brute ugliness has prevailed in far too many places, typically as a result of greed. There’s no excuse for much of that, either. A little extra expenditure could have added grace to any development, created visual intrigue, lessened the harshness. Urban or rural or what’s in-between, alas.

Whenever possible, I chose career moves that opened me to natural or artistic settings and inspiration – along with opportunities to shine professionally. It’s meant avoiding suburbs, for one thing. Sometimes, though, it’s also meant invoking a sliding scale of value – you know, finding pockets of serenity within otherwise harsh localities. And then there were some other postings that principally industrial, even when it was mostly farmland. So it’s been a mix.

Still, as I’ve said, I came to realize that had I remained in my native corner of Ohio, I wouldn’t have been able to write poetry, the vibe was simply wrong. Or, if I had, it would have been much different from what I’ve done.

On the other hand, the four years I lived two hours east of Mount Rainier, back in the late ’70s, gave me repeated access to one of America’s greatest national treasures, often from lesser-known perspectives. What memories! And that’s before I turn to much of the back country and wilderness that was closer to our home. I even came to love the beauty of the desert where I was living, a landscape that initially struck us as hideous.

Mount Desert Island, home of Acadia National Park, glimpsed from the east.

Now I’m finding myself dwelling two hours east of an even more popular natural park, Acadia. Already, I have glimmers of many backwoods and remote rocky shores to explore in-between.

Technically, all of Downeast Maine is also Acadia, the French name of the region. For most folks, though, Acadia means the park.

The biggest land mammal out west was the elk, while here in northern New England, it’s the moose. Just as the celebrated shellfish here is lobster, rather than Dungeness crab.

The fact is, for many people, either place is about as close to paradise as you’d find on earth.

And, yes, I’m feeling lucky – or especially blessed – that way.

Come explore the Olympic Peninsula

When Jaya and Joshua set of for the Pacific Northwest in my novel Nearly Canaan, what they expect to find is something very much like the Olympic Peninsula rather than the fertile desert where they land.

Here’s some of the alternative.

  1. Set on the far western end of Washington state, the Olympic Peninsula is an anvil of land comprising nearly 3,600 square miles – more than Rhode Island and Delaware combined. It has rare temperate rainforests, glacier-clad mountains, hot springs, timber-tangled shorelines, tall seastacks in the surf, hot springs, waterfalls, large lakes, and eight Native tribes and their reservations.
  2. Olympic National Park at the heart of the peninsula covers nearly a million acres and includes the state’s second-largest mountain range, crowned by 7,980-feet-tall Mount Olympus. Glacier-climbing skills are essential for ascent and descent. The park is the system’s sixth most popular, attracting more than 30 million visitors a year.
  3. The restoration of elk was so essential to the park’s mission that it was nearly named Elk National Park.
  4. The town of Forks gets 119.7 inches of precipitation a year – making it the wettest municipality in the continental U.S. And the nearby Hoh rainforest receives 140 to 170 inches a year.
  5. The peninsula abuts the Pacific Ocean on the west, the Strait of San Juan de Fuco on the north, and Puget Sound on the east. Its rugged interior shunts auto traffic toward the coastlines.
  6. The 300-mile, two-lane Route 101 loop around the peninsula is considered a three-day drive. More, for those who investigate scenic offshoots. There are no alternatives for traversing the peninsula.
  7. Hot springs access is available to the public at Sol Duc. Other sites are local secrets.
  8. Following the biggest dam removal in U.S. history, completed in 2014, the Elwah River once again runs wild for fish migration.
  9. There are more than 60 named glaciers.
  10. While the Olympics Range is seen prominently from Seattle on a clear day, its tallest point, Mount Olympus, is visible from no city.

~*~

Hope that serves as an introduction. We haven’t even touched on Port Townsend.

 

Hops, as in beer

In my novel Nearly Canaan, Joshua and Jaya settle into a place unlike anything they would have imagined. It’s desert, for one thing, where nearly everything has to be irrigated, for another. Quite simply, it’s a lot like Yakima, in the middle of Washington state, where some of the world’s best hops are grown.

Did you know …

  1. The flowers (also called cones) are full of perishable resins that are dried and processed for use as a bittering, stabilizing, and flavoring agent in beer.
  2. Hops have a complex chemical composition leading to two distinct types. Bittering hops have higher concentrations of alpha acids and counter the sweetness of the malt base of a beer. Aroma hops, added toward the end of brewing, prevent the evaporation of essential oils, thus retaining and enhancing the taste.
  3. The choice of hops and techniques of hopping can give a particular recipe its unique taste, as today’s microbrewers are emphasizing. Quite simply, some hop varieties are much better than others in creating a distinctive brew. Think of the way wine lovers describe a bottle, and then apply it here.
  4. The vines (or technically, bines – vines without tendrils) are typically grown on strings or cables to overhead wires, maybe 15 to 20 feet in the air, and cut down for harvest. They’re loaded onto wagons and taken to the hop house for processing and packing.
  5. They grow best in a soil type that is also highly suited for potatoes.
  6. The United States is the world’s leading grower, followed by Germany, together accounting for more than four-fifths of the global hop supply. Despite its fame in the field, the Czech Republic is a distant third.
  7. Three distinct districts in the Yakima Valley, each uniquely different in their output, together produce more than 77 percent of the nation’s hop crop. Most of the farms are third- and fourth-generation family operations.
  8. Pollinated seeds are deemed undesirable for beer. Only female plants are grown in commercial fields. So much for sex discrimination.
  9. Harvesting is a labor-intensive effort, dependent on migrant workers.
  10. They’re in the hemp family, though I don’t know of anyone smoking them.

~*~

Cheers!

Some Native names regarding the Cascades mountains

Many of the Pacific Northwest’s most prominent features are known by the names of Europeans or their descendants, rather than their earlier Native designations. Since the tribes on one side of the Cascade mountains had a different language stock than those of the other side, the names could be quite different.

  1. Mount Washington: Tahoma or Tacoma
  2. Mount Adams: Patoh or Klickitat
  3. Mount Hood: Wy’east
  4. Mount St. Helens: Loowit or Louwala Clough
  5. Mount Baker: Kulshan
  6. Mount Jefferson: Seekseekqua or Kuassal Teminbi
  7. Mount Shasta: Ako-Yet or Yeh te che na or Et ti ja na
  8. The Cascade Range: Yamakiasham Yaina
  9. Columbia River: Wimhal or Wimal, Nch’I-Wana or Nichi-Wanna, Swah’netk’qhu
  10. Bridge of the Gods: Tanmanhawis

~*~

There’s some rich mythology involving these names and their personalized characteristics. For instance, the brothers Patoh/Klickitat and Wy’east, after traveling down the Columbia River from the far north to resettle, entered into some heated rivalry for the fair maiden Loowit/Louwala Clough. Their volcanic eruptions of jealousy and earth quaking even resulted in the collapse of the Bridge of the Gods across the river, producing a series of rapids.

There’s plenty more, if you chose to investigate. Any to share from where you live?  

 

What you should know about Dungeness crab

In my novel Nearly Canaan, Joshua and Jaya settle into a place unlike anything they would have imagined. It’s desert, for one thing, where nearly everything has to be irrigated, for another. Quite simply, it’s a lot like Yakima, in the middle of Washington state. But it’s also close to fresh Dungeness crab, a shellfish with a heavenly taste all its own.

What you should know.

  1. It draws its name from Dungeness, Washington, on the Olympic Peninsula.
  2. It’s not King Crab, mind you, an Alaska specialty, but it is threatened by ocean acidification.
  3. It has five pairs of legs. (I haven’t counted the ones on a lobster.)
  4. It is found largely between Alaska’s Aleutian Islands and Santa Barbara, California. But don’t overlook that Washington state connection, right in the middle.
  5. About one-quarter of the crab’s weight is meat. One crab usually satisfies one person, though sometimes it will be shared by two.
  6. It has a delicate flavor and a slightly sweet taste. Don’t ask me to compare it to chicken or anything else. Not even lobster. It’s as different as cod is from salmon.
  7. It’s the State Crustacean of Oregon. What else do they have?
  8. If you go out at night trying to find one with a strong light focused in the water, you can likely rake up one right next to a decaying starfish.
  9. You really can’t get it here, wherever that is, outside of the Pacific Northwest.
  10. If you haven’t guessed, I really do miss them. They don’t travel well.

Some things about NW grunge

Although I’ve concentrated a lot on the hippie end of the counterculture revolution, I’m not that conversant in many of its more recent manifestations.

Considering the events in my novel Nearly Canaan, when Joshua and Jaya settle into a place unlike anything they would have imagined, out in the desert on the other side of the mountains from Seattle, I see I need to pay attention, especially since grunge entered the scene just a little later.

Here are ten points.

  1. Sometimes called the Seattle Sound, grunge was a blend of punk and heavy metal revolving around the local independent record label Sub Pop and featuring a distorted electric guitar sound. (I’ll let others define both punk and metal.) And then it took off into the ’90s and mainstream.
  2. The lyrics are typically angst filled of a socially alienated sort. Apparently, we could do a Tendrils right there.
  3. Kurt Cobain’s suicide in 1994 likely played into its demise.
  4. Its mundane, everyday style of clothing sharply contrasted to punk’s mohawks, leather, and chains. It also featured Doc Martens boots, wool flannel plaid shirts, and thermal underwear befitting the Pacific Northwest.
  5. It was seen as anti-consumerist. The less you spent, the cooler you were. Cobain’s widow Courtney Love was the embodiment of the thrift-shop philosophy.
  6. Males, especially, had unkempt hair.
  7. Espresso, beer, and heroin have been cited as its three main drugs.
  8. It led to a distinctive graphic design based on “lo fi” or low fidelity imagery, with intentionally murky lettering, photography, and collage enhanced by desktop publishing and digital image processing on Macintosh computers.
  9. The appearance of ‘zines, often of a literary sort, blossomed as an off-shoot of this. I’ve appeared as a poet in many of them, mostly photocopied and stapled.
  10. Some see the movement as introducing non-binary sexual awareness to the wider culture.

~*~

Can’t help thinking this sounds like hippie on a downer trip to me.

What’s your take on grunge?

 

Distances from Seattle to … it really is a world apart

In my novel Nearly Canaan, Joshua and Jaya settle into a place unlike anything they would have imagined. It’s desert, for one thing, where nearly everything has to be irrigated, for another. Quite simply, it’s a lot like Yakima, in the middle of Washington state. The closest big city was Seattle, three or four hours away. And that, too, was far from much else.

Just consider these in miles, apart from flying time, even when you could fly direct.

  1. Anchorage: 1,448 miles. Alaska has a spiritual affinity in the Pacific Northwest, like it’s just up the road, more or less. Plus, it had good summer jobs on the crab boats, forget the riskiness.  
  2. Honolulu: 2,680. Naturally, driving isn’t an option. As a vacation destination, though, this was a highly popular option, especially considering the sunshine.
  3. San Francisco: 679. Like this was the next town south, and like a grown-up version of Seattle, a few decades back. It’s still a long way to drive.
  4. Las Vegas: 871. Seemed close, especially in winter. Say a weekend getaway. Again, factor in the sunshine, if you ever left your hotel/casino.
  5. Denver: 1,024. While many think of the Mile High City as Western, we thought of it as Out East. Our awareness largely skipped right over it. See next item.
  6. Chicago: 1,737. Alaska was closer, and more of a kindred nature.
  7. New York: 2,408. Largely didn’t matter in our eyes.
  8. Washington: 2,306. Ditto.
  9. Tokyo: 4,792. Psychologically, it felt as close as the East Coast of the U.S. and about as influential. We shared an ocean, after all.
  10. Atlanta: 2,182. And you still had to get to Florida, which didn’t matter since we had Hawaii when you added it all up. Blah! 

Ten things ‘What’s Left’ and ‘Nearly Canaan’ have in common

Considering that they were drafted 30 years apart, I thought these two novels would have nothing in common.

Boy, was I wrong.

Here are ten overlaps.

~*~

  1. American Midwest. Southern Indiana for Cassia. The Great Plains or somewhere similar for Jaya and Joshua.
  2. Asian spiritual practice. Tibetan Buddhism for Cassia’s father. Hindu-influenced yoga for Jaya.
  3. Relationship and family focus. Five generations for Cassia, including her close cousins known as the Squad. Three same-age couples for Jaya, plus her in-laws and landlords out west.
  4. Livelihood. Family-owned restaurant and real estate for Cassia’s clan. Nonprofit public services for Jaya.
  5. Women in business. Cassia’s whole family, from her great-grandmothers down to herself. Jaya in nonprofits management.
  6. Career uncertainty. Cassia’s cousins have difficult decisions to make about whether to stay with the family business or find other livelihoods. Three of the spouses in Nearly Canaan struggle in their search for suitable employment, while the other three are caught up in their professions.
  7. Far West. As a young adult, Cassia works with clients across the western half of America, while Jaya and Joshua eventually relocate to the Pacific Northwest.
  8. Death and loss. They’re central to both books.
  9. Food. Cassia has all of that Greek heritage. Jaya and Joshua move to a land of orchards and fresh seafood.
  10. Restaurants. Cassia’s family owns a landmark café. Jaya is introduced to Joshua where he’s a flippant waiter.

~*~

Any of this appeal to you?

Hot, hot, hot

In my novel What’s Left, the kitchen in the family restaurant could have looked like this. It’s the Olympic Club Hotel (a.k.a. Olympic Club Saloon), 112 N. Tower St., Centralia, Washington, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Photo by Joe Mabel via Wikimedia Commons.