No, friends, I haven’t dropped off the face of the earth. I was dropping off my daughter Bea, not quite at the ends of the earth, but at Stanford University, 858 miles from home. We left early, so Eli could check out the graduate program at the International Institute in Monterey. We decided to make a proper road trip out of it. Thom couldn’t get away, so Bea, Eli, and I kissed him goodbye, and hit the road.
Our first stop was Portland, where we dined with Cousin Bryan, talented photographer, and Friend Barb.
Then we parked on the lawn of Chapman School amidst a happily buzzing crowd. We were waiting for sunset, to witness a miracle of nature.
Every September, on their fall migration to Central America, as many as 35,000 Vaux’s Swifts stop to roost in the school’s industrial-sized chimney. It was breathtaking to watch them gather, swooping and dipping in graceful swirling patterns of feather, muscle, and tiny bird bone.
As the sun set, the first little swift disappeared into the chimney, followed by thousands of its traveling companions. Portland was a rest area for them, as it was for us, on one heck of a road trip. I had road signs to follow, but had to wonder how the swifts managed to find their way back again and again to the exact same roost.
Bryan suggested another stop–for dessert at funky Rimsky-Korsakoffee House. Raspberry Fool, pumpkin sundae, frozen lemon mousse came and went, while we enjoyed live classical piano music. Our table top rotated so slowly we didn’t even realize it until we found ourselves dipping our spoons into our neighbor’s dessert. I won’t spoil the surprise, but if you find yourself at Rimsky-KorsaKoffee House, be sure to visit the restroom.
The next day we burned rubber–450 miles worth–heading south on I-5 through Oregon, marvelous Oregon!
Where else could you pull up to a gas station, and not only have your tank filled , but get this kind of service?
Not to mention the natural wonders….
We passed through O’Brien, Oregon….
…navigating rush hour traffic without too much difficulty.
It was a long day, but it flew by–not just because we had Good ‘n’ Plenties in the car, but because Bea read aloud to us–first Rex Benedict’s YA Western, Good Luck Arizona Man, and then Last Stand at Goodbye Gulch. Bea brought the quirky characters to life with her many voices.
We also sang along with the Kingston Trio, Michael Martin Murphy‘s cowboys songs, and Paul Clayton’s Whaling Songs of the 19th Century. Our favorites are the stories set to music. Like John Denver’s On the Road, or Liam Clancy’s The Band Played Waltzing Matilda.
We cut over to the coast from Grant’s Pass, and found ourselves in California.
We marveled at the giant redwoods…
…and golden hills.
We braked frequently for wildlife…
…and, yes, for ice cold Diet Coke.
Like the Vaux’s Swifts, we found a very nice place to roost that night. Ferndale is a Victorian village, with over a hundred Victorian buildings still in use. We splurged and stayed at The Victorian Inn, which is old enough to have suffered damage during the 1906 earthquake.
We missed the sunset in Ferndale, but went for a night walk on the deserted streets.
Not even a restaurant was open, so we had a picnic up in our room…
…solved all the world’s problems over a hot cup of tea in the Victorian’s cozy guest lounge…
…and went to sleep in beautiful brass beds.
The next day, we took a walk to see the town by daylight.
So many beautiful old houses!
Then we discovered Ferndale’s terraced cemetery. I urged the kids to keep time in mind, as we still had 400 miles to drive that day.
We found so many stories there, some shared with the world, others buried so deep we could only wonder at them.
We almost missed the little marker on a weathered tombstone identifying its occupant as one of the handcart pioneers, who had spent months walking 1300 miles across the Great Plains on foot, dragging no more than 17 pounds of personal possessions, food staples, and a few tools.
The trip of a lifetime.
Some people showed a sense of humor about a very serious subject, or at least their survivors did.
I don’t believe this was irreverence; rather a private joke shared from one world to the next. There was also a well-worn bench for them to spend time together. So far away, and yet still so close.
Most were simple heartfelt expressions that summed up a life in a few words.
Sometimes all it took was one word.
While reading stories of flesh and blood written in stone, I came upon a headstone belonging to a young man, who died in 1880 at the age of 23. His bones are dust by now, as are those of the parents who grieved for him, but their words still ring true.
“A light is from our household gone, a voice we loved is still. A place is vacant at our hearth, which never can be filled.”
I’m glad the kids were off exploring and the cemetery was deserted, because I started to bawl. My heart must’ve been feeling what my mind kept trying to forget–that my baby bird was flying from the nest, and nothing would ever be the same. It only took a tissue and a minute or two to pull myself together. Truly, I couldn’t have been in a better place for putting this matter into perspective.
We raise our children to be strong and independent. We do whatever we can to help our little birds learn to fly. When they do, we rejoice. It means we’ve done our job, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. It was a moment that put my whole life into perspective. Instead of fretting about getting to Monterey before dark, we walked downtown to a lovely shop in search of…
On life’s journey, I will be a handcart pioneer. I choose to bring sunshine and laughter and song with me–as much as I can carry, and then some for sharing. Along the way I will partake of pumpkin sundaes, good company, and live music. I will fill my heart with stories that make me strong, make me wise, make me laugh. I will savor the Good ‘n’Plenties of Life. In every footstep of my journey, I will have faith in the power of love. And I will always remember that tiny miracle of nature, the Vaux’s Swift, who on its own life journey, always manages to find its way home, even for a little while.
All words and images copyright 2012 Naomi Baltuck
Click here for more interpretations of Ailsa’s Travel Theme: Stone.