Sunday, July 25, 2021

North Cascades by Camper Van, Part Two - The Number of All the Mosquitos in all the Forests

The five of us fit in the camper van now, but that won't always be the case. As it was, two years ago, Elise, Clementine,  and I slept three across in the bottom of the van, while Sam and Peter shared the upper bunk in the pop-top. "Hanna Hanna" was configured a little differently than the van we had two years ago. A cabinet in the rear of the lower berth made it too tight a squeeze to revisit the same sleeping arrangements we had before. This time, Sam, Peter, and Clementine would share the down below. Even so, we had to put one of the bags under Clementine so she could stretch across the pullout bench seat and one of 5he captains chairs. That gave Elise and I free reign of the upper bunk. 

We were joined the next day -- and for the rest of the trip, save the very last night we would again spend on Whidbey Island -- by Elise's brother and his wife and their two-year old son, Danny, the kid's cousin. They had only recently been introduced to Danny, but they took to each other quickly. 

We met them at a Starbucks in Burlington,  right off I-5, before heading to Rasar State Park on the banks of the Skagit River. 

When we pulled into the park, we were greeted by towering pines and psithurism, the sound of the wind moving through trees, a word that comes from the Greek word 'psithuros' meaning 'whispering'. When I stepped out of the van, I was met by a light, but steady shower of pine needles; they would soon cover everything.  

We were also met by the largest mosquitos I'd ever seen in my life. Their presence was alarming at first -- Elise, Clementine, and I had all come down with dengue at some point this spring. We had to consciously remind ourselves these were not dengue-carrying mosquitos, and as numerous as they were, they were not dangerous. Their number made me think of the number of stars in the universe or the number of grains of sand on all the world's beaches. 

It was July 4, and the calm of psithurism would soon be replaced by the thunderous boom of fireworks filling the valley. Darkness comes late this far north, and the fireworks waited until the sun set and the violet and peach dusk faded, lying in wait on the other side of the terminator between day and night. Knowing they were there -- that small children, men, women, and boys stand by tauntingly, lighter or flame in hand, just waiting to light the wick and set the night ablaze -- may be enough to fill anyone with a sense of existential dread. It was like we awaited an ambush. Frankly, after the pandemic year we’ve just been through — and given the looming uncertainty of the future — who can’t relate? Elise and I laid awake in our bunk as the night exploded around us. When it did come, we weren't afraid of the sound.  Eventually, we would found sleep. 

The next day, we took the boys down the Skagit to dip their lines into the river. The boys stood on the sandy banks while Clementine built sand castles at their feet. The line sails through the air, and, for a split second the sun catches the filament, and you can see the line in the river, connecting the boy to the river, attaching him to something bigger than himself, deep and swift, and cold.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

North Cascades by Camper Van, Part One - The Montana Monstrosity

We had two days to kill after leaving Bellingham and before picking up the camper van. We spent two nights at Loge in Westport, WA, the site of our first night in the camper van from our trip two years ago down the Oregon coast.

Loge is an old roadside motel cum surf camp. The old roadside motel has been painted over in Pacific ocean greys with aquamarine trim. There is a coffee bar and communal firepit surrounded by covered berths for campers and tents. A stage under white backyard lights was empty this go-around where it played host to a bluegrass band two summers ago, pre-Covid. 

We walked the docks of the marina downtown, had fish and chips for dinner. 

We drove down to the beach one day, a wide stretch of grey, grey sand, grey water, and grey sky. The lack of contrast played tricks on your eyes. I had no depth perception and felt a little like the small girl in Poltergeist, sitting in front of the snow on the television set. A piece of driftwood or a dog running down the never-ending swath of grayness stood out in stark relief, an object to consume all your attention in a sea of negative space and white visual noise. 

We watched the surfers bounce in the knee-high swells. The boys were a little envious, despite the bone chilling sea temps. Two dozen black wetsuits wrestled with shortboards in the grey foam, yet we only saw one or two surfers actually catch a small wave, a far cry from the surfing we have become accustomed to in Sri Lanka. (On the other side of the jetty, massive mounds of deep blue water swelled, but never broke.) 

After some time, Sam could contain himself no longer, stripped down to his swim trubks, and threw himself at Neptune's feet, the crash of the icy Pacific slamming him in the chest as he gave himself over wholly to the call of the briny deep. The ocean in the Pacific Northwest is a frigid partner, yet the cleansing properties of cold  saltwater still can purify and, for that, still can tempt. For lack of sunlight, it would take Sam a long time to warm up from that swim.

The kids explored makeshift driftwood shelters for hours, and I was reminded we had no camper van to retreat to. Last time we were here, we had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the van after the beach, fine sand like talcum powder in between our toes. 

We made our way back to Seattle the next day. We traded in our rental car for the keys to "Hanna Hanna", our homestead, our covered wagon, our trusty steed for the week. She previously went by "Hamma Hamma", but was recently purchased by a young  woman named Hanna. In anticipation of our borrowing her for the week, the fine folks at Peace Vans redubbed her "Hanna Hanna" just for us. 

We pulled out of Peace Vans and headed north, Elise at the wheel (Elise was kind enough to chauffeur the entire trip; my driver's license had expired during the last year stuck overseas). 

Our first campsite was at Fort Casey State Park on Whidbey Island. We had to take the ferry from Mukilteo to get there. 

The campground was next to the ferry terminal taking travelers further west to Port Townsend. We were woken the next morning by a low, deep moan carrying over Puget Sound. Yet, we could see nothing through the thick mist that had enveloped the campground. A foghorn? The guttural howl of some creature from the bottom? The intermittent groan persisted. We had no idea what it was until the fog gradually lifted and we could see just see the dull outline of the ferry moving offshore, a giant kraken pulling itself through the water. 

Elise and I were both astounded (and, honestly, a little shocked and embarrassed) by the size of some people's motorized homes. One of the things I love most about the camper van is everything I love most in life fits inside it. It is a VW Eurovan, not large, but big enough to my wife, my kids, a cooler, my running shoes, and a few duffels of clothes. And that's it. If the world crumbled away beneath us and we lost everything else, we would still have everything we need. 

The owners of the Montana Monstrosity parked in the campsite next to us likely felt the same way. I just don't feel the need to bring a big screen TV and leather recliner camping with me. Yes, it would be nice to treat ourselves to a hot shower at the end of a long day, but there is also something to he said for bathing in a cold spigot. 

Saturday, July 3, 2021

"My Name is Jeff!"

Back when the kids were in school -- eons ago, now -- Peter and his friend Ryan worked together on a story. I don't even remember now what the story was about. I only remember the protagonist of the story was named Jeff who spoke with a wavering Southern accent, something between Tarzan's ululations and the incomprehensible caterwauling of an injured drunkard.  Think Bobcat Goldthwaite. I only remember this detail because Peter will still exclaim out of nowhere, "My name is Jeff!" in the same accent, though, clearly, his name is not Jeff.

After an extended stay in Cheney -- a delightfully relaxing period marked by cool morning runs and trips to Zips for burgers, crinkle fries with tartar sauce, and marshmallow milkshakes. 

Peter spent one morning with his grandfather watching planes land and take off at Felts Field over a breakfast of French toast and sausage links. They slipped and slid in the backyard  and even pulled out their two-year old cousin's pirate ship-themed wading pool.

We ate tacos at our favorite cantina in Spokane (twice), went for a hike on Spokane Mountain, went to Clear Lake to fish for trout (many times), and Elise and I even volunteered to pass out Gatorade an aid station on the bicycle route of the Ironman triathlon in Couer d'Alene.

Sadly, our stay in Cheney had come to an end. 
We said goodbye to the grandparents and headed west to Bellingham. 

We stayed three nights in an A-frame cabin among the towering pines in Sudden Valley. We left the grandparents' on a 100+ degree day. When we arrived in Bellingham, there, too, record highs scorched the extreme upper left of the continental USA. Our cabin didn't have AC. The kids put their pajamas in the freezer before putting them on to cool themselves off before going to bed.. We stayed up until 11:00 waiting for it to cool down, then eventually slept on the floor to avoid the heat. 

To cool off, we set out for a hike from Lake Whatcom Park to fish and for a dip in the lake. 

The only reason I mention the phrase at the start, is -- as you are looking through these photos -- you have to imagine Peter blurting out at any given moment, "My name is Jeff!"

Which only begets more hilarity from Peter when we actually meet someone named Jeff. 

Friday, July 2, 2021

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Trout No Doubt

We've already made two trips to Clear Lake just outside of Cheney to scratch the fishing itch, and I suspect we'll go at least twice more before we leave. 

I'm very proud of Sam. He got all the gear he needed to hook his first trout, including asking neighboring adults what they were using for bait, then changing tactics. Gutted the fish all on his own when we got home, and pan fried it up perfectly for dinner. 

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Paul, this is America. America, Paul

We flew from Colombo, Sri Lanka, departing under the heavy cover of a humid night.  We were picked up in front of our house at 8:00 p.m., a white cargo van the only object on the empty, locked down street, reflecting the orange street lights of its steely hide. Despite the late hour, there was an uncommon amount of traffic on the roads. Especially considering the country was still under a government lockdown. The airport, on the other hand was deserted.  We were the only people there, greeted at the front sliding glass door by a guard in an aluminum foil hazmat suit and machine gun. 

Our flight departed shortly after midnight, sandwiched in between departures to Chennai and Milan. There were only a half dozen or so other passengers on the giant Airbus A-330 to London. We spread out, lying flat across three seats, and slept most of the 11 and a half hour flight. 

The Lindon airport was more crowded, but there were still only 20 or so passengers on the second leg of our journey from London to Seattle. I used points to upgrade us all to business class, a rare splurge. It was totally worth it. We dined on steaks, drank IPAs and gin and tonics, watched movies and listened to music through noise-cancelling headphones, and stretched out flat in our automated recliners. I don't know how we'll ever go back to flying coach. Alas, we must. 

It took forever to take the shuttle from the main terminal to the rental car pavilion. The airport was packed, reaffirming reports domestic travel in America was on the uptick. We eventually made it to the townhouse we rented in Eastlake around 2:00 in the afternoon on the officially longest day of travel ever. 

The first few days were spent in a confused and hazy state outside of time. We slept when we were tired and ate when we were hungry, but our sleeping hours didn't necessarily coincide with darkness, and our meal times didn't necessarily neatly line up with breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The goal was just, and that was enough, a state of content to just be present in America, particularly Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. 

The scene was made more surreal by Seattle's long days. The sun doesn't set until 9:00 at night. The kids adapted quickly to the jet lag, but still often fell asleep under a full sun. I laid in bed one night, the Seattle skyline at the foot of the bed through an open window, watching dusk come and go, a violet gloaming accompanied by the not unpleasant rhythm of airplanes on their final approach into SeaTac and the methodical -- but purposeful -- drone of neighboring I-5. 

We walked to a neighborhood grocery in Eastlake and bought frozen pizzas, beer, and wine for dinner the first night. Elise and I ran in the morning on the Burke-Gilman trail and past UW, the kids watched cartoons on the Disney Channel. The next morning we made a pilgrimage through a light Seattle rain to Top Pot doughnuts, then walked back to our townhouse, eating glazed doughnuts and drinking hot coffee. We would go back two mornings later. 

Being back in America after two years produced a set of wonders for the kids. They asked where the water cooler was when we first walked into the townhouse, then expressed shock and disbelief when we told them they could drink the water straight from the spigot. When we pulled up in front of a convenience store in Cheney a few days ago, Clementine asked, "Why would anyone need packaged ice?" The kids are more fascinated with commercials than the program that comes in between them, already memorizing the Fruity Pebbles jingle. 

The kids were slightly unsettled the first few days in the townhouse.  We all were. But since we have moved to Elise's parent's home in Cheney, they have mellowed, falling easily back into old habits, old spots on the couch, old, comfortable places to rest, the arms of their grandparents.  

The adjustment to a society largely recovering from the pandemic after being immersed in a society still struggling through its most difficult moments of the pandemic has been jarring. Many people don't wear masks on the east side of Washington state. This was to he expected, but still took some getting used to. An initial sense of judgment was quickly replaced with relief, a realization the country is healing, albeit slowly. Not something that can be said for Sri Lanka. We're happy to be here. 

A Day at the Aquarium

The first four days of our American adventure were spent in a townhouse in Eastlake, Seattle.  We touched down in SeaTac after a grueling 30 hour trip, a trip that was, however,  made more tolerable by the fact we spent the leg from London to Seattle in business class.

One of our outings in Seattle was a trip to the aquarium with the kids' two year-old cousin.