Coffee, coffee everywhere, and I just want my tea

Here in Oregon, we’ve got coffee kiosks on every corner, and I never stop. I don’t drink coffee. It’s not a health thing. I hate coffee. I can choke down coffee-flavored ice cream, and I have drunk a wee bit of Irish coffee (whiskey, whipped cream, sugar, and a littlecoffee), but you won’t catch me walking around with a Starbucks or Dutch Brothers cup of java. I have nothing against those places. I love their pastries. But I’m not a coffee drinker. I think it’s genetic. My mother didn’t like the taste either.
Coffee is almost a religion here in the Pacific Northwest. We’ve got our own Newport Bay Coffee Company, as well as our Starbucks, Pirate Coffee Company, Espressgo, Coffee Stop, Dutch Brothers, Pacific Grind, Central Roast, and more. Some folks can’t seem to get through their day without hitting the drive-through. One actually HIT the drive-through in June at Dutch Brothers in Newport. She lost control of her car on the way in and wiped out a stop sign, a fire hydrant and some landscaping, ending up with her car on its side. Emergency vehicles and curious crowds lined the street like it was a parade, but the woman was not hurt, and the coffee-pouring resumed shortly after the car got towed away. She was arrested for DUII. I guess she really needed her coffee.
I don’t understand why people need so much coffee. I’ve noticed lines at the coffee places even on Christmas and Thanksgiving when presumably wherever people are going will have coffee. Folks get coffee on the way to get coffee. Of course what they’re buying may be fancy espresso drinks instead of just plain coffee. But how do they manage the expense and the calories? And how do they sleep at night with all that caffeine?
My late husband was a coffee guy, but just regular joe, please. Black. Strong. He’d buy bags of coffee beans and grind them up in this fancy grinder that sounded like it was shredding bones. An early riser, he took the grinder out into the garage so as not to wake me up. He could drink coffee at night and go to sleep just fine while a sip of his mother’s kahlua (made of vodka and coffee) would have me staring at the ceiling for hours. It was a sad day in Fred’s progression through Alzheimer’s Disease when he forgot how to make coffee.
I come from a different tribe. I drink tea. I require tea. Strong black iced tea at lunch, herb tea the rest of the time. I have been known to avoid restaurants that don’t serve iced tea, so I guess my addiction is just as bad as that of the coffee heads’. Most coffee places serve tea, but it varies in tastiness. Starbucks, for the record, I hate your chai tea.
My favorite coffee place is Arrowhead Chocolates in Joseph, Oregon, way in the northeast corner of the state. Arrowhead was the go-to place for those of us camping out at the Fishtrap writers workshop at Wallowa Lake last month. It has Wi-Fi, air conditioning, chocolate and yes, coffee from Stumptown Coffee Roasters. Plus, they have great tea. The owners take pride in coming up with new blends of teas, stuff I can’t even explain, but it always tastes good and is served over honest-to-God ice. Heaven.
Dear coffee drinkers, I don’t get it, but we’re each welcome to our own addictions. If you come to my house, I’ve got plenty of tea. If you need coffee, I’ve got some of that, too, but you’ll have to brew it yourself. I don’t remember how to work the coffeemaker either.
What’s your favorite caffeinated beverage?

Retreat and re-entry: coming back from Fishtrap

Two weeks ago today, I had just arrived at Fishtrap, a weeklong writing workshop at Wallowa Lake, near Joseph, Oregon. Sleeping in yurts and tents in a Methodist campground, we spent our days attending workshops, writing, thinking, making new friends and listening to great writers read their works.
Fishtrap is really a retreat combined with a workshop. I often think I don’t need a retreat. Why go somewhere else when I already live alone in the woods? I don’t need to go into isolation somewhere else. But Fishtrap offers things I don’t have here, like great teachers and other people to eat with, talk with, and write with. It’s like finding a whole bunch of people to play with who like to do the same things I do. In the outside world, we might look like geeks sitting around writing, but not at Fishtrap.
It also offers me a chance to unplug. Literally. Normally I’m online all day and watching TV all evening. It’s a major eater of my time and a huge distraction. I also play a lot—too much—Spider Solitaire (don’t start, you’ll get hooked!). We had no Wi-Fi, no cell phone reception, no TV. Without them, I suddenly had lots of time to write, read and play music.
Back home, people ask “How was your trip?” I say “Good,” which doesn’t begin to describe it, and then we move on to the business at hand. In fact, yesterday my boss didn’t even mention my trip. He just started barking orders. Fine. He can’t disturb that peace inside me.
Imagine sitting by a river in the sun, with only other writers, deer, squirrels, Stellar Jays and robins for company, writing with paper and pen until a soft gong calls us back to the patio to talk about our poems and, by extension, our lives. Fishtrap was not a total retreat. We had classes and homework and a schedule, but we left everything at home behind. I could take the time to meditate on the bark of a tree for as long as I needed to truly see it. And then I could write a poem about it.
Of course there are inconveniences. Every time I went into town, I discovered I had book orders that I needed to fill before I got home. (I don’t know why I’m suddenly getting so many orders, but keep them coming. Visit I had plenty of books in my car, but filling an order away from home meant finding a computer connected to a printer to print out the paperwork, putting together books, packaging, mailing labels and tape and getting the packages to the local post offices. It’s easy at home, but quite a challenge on the road. I’m thinking of recruiting someone to manage my Blue Hydrangea Productions business while I’m gone on future trips. Any volunteers?
Aside from the books, nothing else from home mattered. If something major happened, my family knew where to reach me, but otherwise, I could forget about everything. I didn’t have to cook; I showed up three times a day for fabulous food— French toast, pancakes, eggs and bacon, lasagna, fajitas, fried chicken, salads, fresh fruit, cookies, brownies, strawberry shortcake . . . and I got plenty of exercise to work off the calories. I didn’t have to take care of my dog, wash dishes or clothes, or deal with the massive piles of unfinished work that nags at me. I could just read, write, play music, do yoga, explore, eat, and sleep.
Before I came home, I went to Montana to do some research. I did turn on the TV, radio and Internet, but I kept that peaceful feeling and was conscious of not filling my mind with junk. I could and did turn them off and continued to write.
As I got closer to home, I started feeling the pain of reentry. Time to face all those things I put into the “after Fishtrap” category. I had hundreds of emails to deal with, tons of photos and pages of writing to process, meetings coming up, music to prepare, company coming, bills to pay, the dog wanting all my attention, and of course the need to come up with my own food. But I came home with a clear mind and thoughts about how to make my everyday life better. I’m looking at everything with fresh eyes. That’s a value of a retreat.
I long for the simplicity of my yurt, one room with only the things that fit in my car, and only the Fishtrap schedule to control my time. But I’m also enjoying sleeping in my own bed, snuggling with my dog, choosing my own food, reconnecting with my friends, and getting back to work. The challenge is to keep that peaceful, pared-down feeling at home every day. It is possible. I’m sure of it.

Writing my way across four states

Pondering the river during Fishtrap poetry workshop
This week I drove through four states in one day. Twice.
Sunday I woke up in a yurt at Wallowa Lake near Joseph, Oregon. Outside my window, deer grazed on dandelions and a covey of quail chittered in the bushes. I dressed, walked to the lodge for a breakfast of homemade coffeecake and cantaloupe, said goodbye to my Fishtrap writer friends and drove away. That night I went to bed in Missoula, Montana at a Howard Johnson’s on a busy highway lined with motels, restaurants, casinos and car dealerships. To get there, I had driven over 200 miles of winding roads from Oregon through Washington and Idaho and into Montana. I went from the vast farms and cowboy hills of Eastern Oregon through the Blue Mountains and along the Lochsa River until I finally reached the rolling hills and suburban landscape of Missoula. Seventy-five mile-per-hour speed limit and no sales tax. Woohoo!
After checking in at Howard Johnson’s with Indian desk clerks whose English was unintelligible, I drove down the street to Applebee’s and suffered culture shock after a week in nature at the Fishtrap writer’s workshop. No wi-fi, no phones, no TV, no news. We sat by a river talking about poetry, wrote songs under the trees, and told secrets by the campfire. We ate healthy cafeteria style meals. Suddenly I was in a noisy restaurant with an over-solicitous waiter named “Luc” who was waiting for me to choose from a menu of over-seasoned high-calorie entrees. As I settled for a plain turkey sandwich, my cell phone rang for the first time in over a week. No!
Why was I in Missoula? The main character in the novel I’m almost finished with lived in Missoula before she came to Oregon. Toward the end, she goes back for a while. Because I was so close to the border at Wallowa Lake, I decided to see Missoula for myself. I’m glad I did. You can’t really get the flavor of a place from the Internet. I was able to visit the places where she and her husband lived, worked, worshiped and shopped. I ate in the restaurant where she ate. I had a great time following my fictional character through this real setting.
But it got hot, very hot, and I needed to get back to my own nonfiction life. So Tuesday I headed west, taking a different route this time. I drove through C’oeur d’Alene, Idaho, stopped for lunch in Spokane, Washington (great food at the Timber Creek Grill Buffet), and crossed the Columbia River into Oregon near Umatilla. I honked my horn in glee. Hello, Oregon!
Four states in four days. Twice. I bunked in Arlington, Oregon Tuesday night, woke up yesterday at 5 a.m. to the roar of truckers starting their engines and a freight train blasting its horn and set my GPS for “home.” After 1,600 miles, the only state I wanted to be in was a state of rest.
Stay tuned for trip highlights and pictures in the next few posts.

Home, home in my yurt

     When I signed up to stay in a yurt at Fishtrap, the wonderful writers’ gathering in Eastern Oregon where I spent July 9-15, I pictured a glorified tent. Canvas walls, two little beds, a rustic toilet, no privacy.
     I was so wrong. When I slogged into the camp at Wallowa Lake that broiling hot Monday afternoon in my  ailing Honda, I didn’t care where I stayed as long as I could stop driving. But after I checked in and got my little wooden name tag on a string, I was pleasantly surprised to find my yurt, named Coho, was a charming round cottage in a village of other round cottages circling a larger round building where we’d have our classes.
     Up the steps and across the deck, I opened the unlocked door to a pretty kitchen complete with table and chairs, sink, microwave, coffeemaker and refrigerator. Looking up, I saw trees through the big round skylight. There were two bedrooms, one to the right and one to the left. I took the left one while another writer, Judith, would take the other. The bedrooms had double beds, and ladders leading up to lofts that remained unoccupied that week. Towels, sheets, thick blankets and handmade quilts waited for us. We had places to hang our clothes and plenty of electrical outlets. No TV or Wi-Fi, but who needed it?
     If you picture the yurt as a pie, with kitchen and bedrooms being three slices, the bathroom and shower room made up the other slices. We had carpet and linoleum, everything clean, all smelling of fresh-cut wood. It just felt good in there.
   As a bonus, deer wandered the grounds, completely unafraid of us. In fact, a doe and a buck bedded down right outside my window the last night.
    I wanted to stay in that yurt forever.
     What about the writing part? Oh, that was every bit as magical as advertised. In a world where most people don’t understand what writers do, Fishtrap provided an oasis where we didn’t need to do anything but write. We had meals and workshops and readings, all fabulous. I did a lot of singing and guitar-playing. But everywhere one looked, people were hunched over their notebooks or computers writing. We writers had finally found our tribe.
     One day in our songwriting workshop, our leader, Hal Cannon(love him!) had us write parodies of “Home on the Range.” Of course, I wrote about my yurt. I’ll give you just a taste:
Home, home in my yurt,
in my black and red Hawaiian shirt,
where the deer eat the grass as we mosey to class
and leave us their gifts in the dirt.
    Love that yurt.

Rubber on the Road

I sometimes have this fantasy image of me being an adventurer, traveling all over in my Honda Element, experiencing new people and places, camping out in the wilderness, unafraid of anything. Just me and the open road.

What a crock. Last week, I drove from one side of Oregon to the other for Fishtrap, a writers’ gathering at Wallowa Lake, near the town of Joseph in far Eastern Oregon. A big chunk of the trip took place on Highway 84, along the northern rim of Oregon along the Columbia River in what is called the Columbia Gorge.

About five miles west of Arlington, I was passing windmills atop mountains that looked like they had been cut with a knife, with the river to my left. Suddenly, a piece of my car came off. It sounded like something hit the car. I kept hearing noises, so I got off the road, got out, looked around at the tires and sides of the car and didn’t see anything except a black smudge on the door. I figured a piece of tire from the road had hit me. It was at least 110 out there, a hundred miles from any town, no other cars around, so I got back into the air-conditioned car and drove on.

A little farther along, I heard something banging the car. It got louder and louder. Then I saw something dark blowing across the windshield. I pulled off again. I saw a long piece of rubber hanging from the roof. I had no choice but to pull it all the way off. I didn’t know what this was going to do. If it held my windshield in, I was screwed. Now I had melted black rubber all over my roof and all over my hands and arms. It looked like tattoos. There was nothing I could do but toss the rubber on the floor and drive on.

The river was still to my left, but it was a harsh-looking territory. Brown, sharp-edged. Dead animal in the middle of the road. Arlington went by in a blink. How could anything except snakes live here? I’ll bet Lewis and Clark said, ”Oh shit, this is bad” when they came through the east end of the gorge. Ominous. Clouds. The rubber thing smelled like cow poop.

Finally a rest stop where I could check the damage. The rubber strip had been holding the top of my windshield, so now there was a gap between the windshield and the roof of the car. I worried that when it rained, the water would come into the car. I also feared that my windshield would get loose and fall out. But what could I do about it out here?

Just past Boardman, another blink, it started to rain. Then a sign said, “Blowing dust next 40 miles.” That’s what the haze was. Damn.

Then I was driving through a dust storm. Wind pushed at the car, and it was hard to see. Tumbleweeds three feet in diameter came at me across the road. A lot of tumbleweeds. Then rain, big hard attack rain and lightning. Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, I chanted. The tumbleweeds were coming at me like bombs. I was afraid to use my windshield wipers but had to. Thank God, the window held. Nothing was coming in. Yet. It was getting late and dark. If I could just make it to Pendleton and if I could find a motel with a vacancy . . .

I started thinking maybe I should just take tours, even though I hate people telling me what to do and I hate riding buses.

Why didn’t I at least make reservations?

Oh crap. I got a blast of dust, rain, wind and lightning all at the same time. I passed a sign that said if this light is flashing check this radio station for weather info. It was not flashing.

Ten miles to civilization.

Ah, Pendleton. A guy in a Nissan sped by as if nothing was going on. Attractions sign: Pendleton woolen mills. Lodging, exit 207. Almost dark.

The raindrops were thick, like sleet, but my windows felt hot to the touch.

So far, nothing was coming in.

So, Pendleton. Exit. Businesses, stores, houses, a Travelodge somewhere down the road. I followed the sign. When I saw it in the middle of the silent Sunday night town, I thought, Oh Lord. It had the seedy look of those places very poor people rent by the month. But I didn’t want to drive another inch, so I parked, walked around the building until I found the office and discovered a normal-looking lobby, complete with a young Indian woman, last name Patel, at the desk. “How was your drive?” she asked.

“Crazy,” I said.

“Well, it’s been pretty hot today.”

“How hot?”


“That’s pretty hot,” I said, feigning calm. But I was thinking, “115! One hundred freaking fifteen degrees!!!!” It didn’t feel that bad then because the wind was blowing half of Pendleton from one side to the other and attack rain was cooling things down. But 115! Any thoughts I had of checking out historic Pendleton were replaced by thoughts of “I’ve got to get out of here” and “Please Lord, don’t let it be that hot where I’m going.”

It was.

But I’m happy to report I had a good time. Fishtrap worked its spirit-healing magic, and the drive back was considerably more mellow, although the wind was so hard at one rest stop that I had a hard time opening the door. I’m actually planning to go back sometime. There is so much to see, especially between Portland and The Dalles, so much history and nature to explore. But not yet.

In the early part of my trip, I was reading Robin Hemley’s Field Guide to Immersion Writing. I was in the section about travel writing, and I supposed I was immersed in it right then. Perhaps that’s what this is, immersion writing. Me and my long strip of rubber coming off the car in the middle of the Columbia Gorge. For now, that’s about as much adventure as I can stand.

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