Wensday August 7th 1991
Port Townsend, Wa.
We've been thinking and talking about you lately, especially as we headed back from the mountains last few trips. And we've been talking about Mexico and other supposedly less obnoxious climates in the bleakest part of winter. Carter was even talking about going to Mexico, trying to get me to commit to a trip this year, just last Saturday. I have not yet dug into the files to pull out the letters you've sent us about where you actually go down there, so I'm a long way from the committment she's looking for, but I had already suggested we ought to try to time our trip so that we could benefit from being able to follow you around down there, when your letter arrived.
As anyone who has actually watched me over the past 15 years can see, I have basically turned into a home-body, if not tied to the house itself, at least solidly run aground in this bio-region. Its appalling, actually, but at this point I can hardly imagine a better get-away than a week stumbling around in alp-land in the miniature wilderness of the Olympic Mountains, less than 35 miles southwest of my house. Total driving time: 4 hours, roundtrip. My first step toward increasing the intensity and effectiveness of that experience is simply to double the dosage: make it 2 weeks. However, I do recognize the need to broaden my horizons, if for no other reason than to force me out of my comfort zone, into a situation where I am once again dumbstruck by my appalling ignorance and find myself learning all sorts of new stuff at the speed of light, although I recognize that its all an illusion. I honestly do like feeling the rush of accelerated learning, even though all I'm usually learning is the cheap-stuff; the big, easy-to-understand, the most obvious parts of the puzzle. There is no escape from the fact that true depth takes time to acquire and that the subtle but critical details, the things that make a place truly unique are still going to escape me and anyone else who hasn't spent years studying them.
So, after years of half-assed thinking about tromping around in Portugal and the Pyrennies, when the airplane tickets to Australia got really cheap this summer, we started talking about foreign travel again. They don't really have the kind of mountains I like down there, so it didn't really make a lot of sense to leave here during the best time of the year, to go to Austalia during their worst season. And anyway, we were both horrendously busy this summer, but even talking about it got the cat out of the bag, as they used to say on sailing ships, and got us thinking about doing something more exotic than taking a 50 mile backpack into the pleistocene glaciers of the Valhallas, or the Bailey Range north of Mt. Olympus.
I am getting fairly suspicious of long road trips masquerading as vacations. Driving around in a spaceship is expensive and it's a lot of work, and besides, I feel like I'm usually too isolated from reality to learn anything. In fact, I'd probably rather be sitting in front of a computer in a big library, digging up history or climate information, or, as I described last spring, riding on a train. That train-trip was a real eye-opener for me, the scenery was excellent and the pace was so relaxed and you could talk to people without having to worry about driving. The problem in the U.S. is that most of the people on the train are exotic, in the sense that they are in many ways not entirely like me, but for the most part they are not exotic enough to be particularly exciting targets for my gregariousness. Also, the windows don't open, they always run thru the bleakest part of town and they aren't really set up to take me to interesting places, dump me there, and then come by to pick me up 10 days later.
To be truly exotic, if a place is going to be both over-run with people AND an exciting destination, it probably ought to be relatively car-free. By this I mean the culture ought to be based on some form of transportation more sophisticated than the automobile, as opposed to us alone being car-deprived in a culture that is car dependent. In this sense, Washington, D.C., Boston, or even New York City can qualify as exotic destinations, and I am sure most of the world's major cities do too, simply because they were built before rather than after the automobile took over as the planet's dominant life form.
That leads me back to an old fantasy, from the days of kayak dreams: we fly to someplace close to somplace exotic, and then hire a taxi to take us and our crud to the market, and then dump us off at the frontier or the beach. Following that thread a little further, I developed a 'short-list' of places to consider. My short list of obvious places to fly to was limited to countries where people generally spoke some variant of the English language: Scotland, Australia, New Zealand, Alaska. I had made this myopic list simply because our ability to communicate competently is so central to our lives. Unfortunately, the imposition of this embarrassingly [american] limitation cuts off most of the interesting places and almost all of the interesting cultures on this planet.
Virgil, from Carter:
I am trying to plant the seeds of travel to Mexico late in the year. I was glad that you mentioned going in your last letter, it further encouraged me to keep trying. I hope we can make it happen. More and more I feel the need to "escape" Joe from the intensity of what he is doing. The problem of staying here "on vacation", is that it really doesn't work; the subject doesn't change. I am a firm believer in escapism now and then. Once I have pushed Joe to the precipice of going, he seems to tip himself in that direction on his own; a good sign. Also, he is still distractable, which is also essential. So, keep reminding us, send us where, how, etc. of your Mexico trip, and it is just possible that we can be there.
I continue to be a bureaucrat, and continue to enjoy what I'm doing, not something I ever really thought possible, but part of the enjoyment of life is never really knowing. I still seem to be serving the community in this capacity, and have developed an understanding from the inside out, which tempers Joe very well, I think. At any rate, work is not a burden, and is full of interesting possibilities, and a lot of mental gymnastics.
Hah, she's done talking about the future, and I can blather on about the past!
We went to Ed and Charissa's Wedding Festival yesterday. Because we tried to schedule too many operations in one day, especially buying a new truck for Dave and Dixie, the folks we went on the road-trip from Denver to Seattle with last spring, and because the ferry was almost 2 hours late leaving Port Townsend, we missed the actual ceremony, even though we had intended to be there, so I can only talk about what happened next. It was QUITE a show, and I saw people I hadn't seen for over 15 years, and talked at a fairly intense and meaningful level to people, several people in fact, who I have "known" forever, without ever really getting to know at all, so it also accomplished what has to be the most fundamental purpose of this sort of event, at least for me.
I think I am finally coming to [understand] how Ed expresses his generosity. Jon Wilcox, who I hadn't seen since the Mill in the mid-seventies, was there (and recognized me before I recognized him). He told me a story about how Ed is a bit of a sushi-addict, and likes to take people with him to eat the stuff, even though normal American mortals cannot afford to eat sushi as a dietary staple, and how, therefore, everyone in the party delights in the exotic terror of tasting a food so exquisite that some of it may kill you, and Ed picks up the tab. I've got a very ambivalent relationship with the stuff: few things I've ever put in my mouth taste better or are more fun to eat, but in 1983 my parents next door neighbor got intestinal parasites from sushi that almost killed her, and since then we've always been a little spooked about it, altho the sushi we ate in Maui was certainly a high point of the trip. On the other hand, when all 4 of us who ate sushi in the Honolulu Airport on the way back got awesomely sick with fevers over 104 degrees, and Carter, who didn't eat any, didn't get sick, it, I seriously considered swearing it off forever. Like hunting rhinos or climbing mountains, sushi is not really a sport for the poor or the faint of heart, and Ed figured out how to share this sport with all his friends, and some of their friends, too. I doubt that any one person in America has ever turned more people on to the delights of sushi at one time. For the hors d'hourves, Ed had imported from somewhere obviously rather special a masterful Japanese sushi chef, possibly even his personal favorite chef, for all I know. The fellow was equipped with a large table, a trash-can filled with shaved ice, mountains of prepared slices of raw fish, shrimps, eels and other denizens of the deep and myriad small containers of microscopically shaved ginger, caviar the size of #8 buckshot, and other entirely transcendant condiments including the most spectaculary nose-clearing green-mustard sauce I have ever encountered. I spent at least half-an-hour nearly dumb-struck, simply watching the man's hands. It was like the cowboy pouring the tobacco, rolling the cigarette and lighting it, using his left hand while roping and branding a steer with the his right. It was poetry in motion, like a major-league shortstop or a virtuoso musician, his hands wasting no motion whatsoever, and for at least 4 hours, he produced sushi before our very eyes. It seemed that his improvisation was endless: every plate he assembeld contained a different combination of tastes and ingredients and shapes and I went thru the line 3 times. And thanked the man, not only for the fruits of his labor, but for the incredible performance. I only wish I had been warned he was working, so I could have watched him wielding his knife.