Lessons from the Pacific Northwest

Seattle’s Madison Valley is a fine, tall-treed neighborhood, but my too-late suspicions were realized on arrival. This VRBO hideaway with a private patio was reached by steep, wooden outside stairs. The entire neighborhood is built into steep hills. I thought the shower with its bench would be perfect for Phil, but there were three steps to that as well.

Seattle’s Japanese Gardens

After airports and stairs upsets, the Japanese Garden on our first evening was soothing. Now, weeks later, it’s still my favorite Seattle place, where I made peace with my mistake. Traveling involves learning and relearning. It is the reason to do it. Never rent without ascertaining accessibility, no matter what the photos look like.

At Pike Place Market I glimpsed the tossing of fish through the throng, and then we went to the Ballard Locks. I enjoyed the Locks—green park, cool air, not so crowded, boats coming and going, up and down.Tourist attractions mean crowds.Try to remember you don’t like crowds.

Madison Avenue ends in a park and beach, houses hung over water, and a row of shops—bakery, kitchenware, fabric, yoga. We stood on a fishing pier waiting for lines of wake from passing boats to reach us, watched swimmers in wet suits stroke around the bend to shore, Mt. Rainier hovering insubstantially at the horizon. The lines of wake arrive after the boat is long gone. At the bakery for coffee and pastry, we sat in a swirl of cell phones, babies and dogs, just like home.

Living on the water, Madison Park

We approached hysteria finding I-5 north to get out of Seattle. The phone kept advising us to take I-5 south. “Make a U-turn,” it said, when we finally found the north-bound entrance. “Fuck you,” Phil yelled. When we reached Vancouver, we got hysterical again trying to find Granville Island. AAA didn’t update after I called with the hotel address and we didn’t notice, ended up downtown. Trying to get directions on my phone in bright sun, unable to see the screen, while driving in heavy traffic…People who can’t tolerate not being in control should triple-check directions before leaving.

We didn’t know Sunday afternoon on Granville Island meant bumper to bumper crawl for the public market and art galleries. Tired of being on the road and frazzled by our downtown adventure, arriving to mobs made us despair. Once in the room accessed by elevator, an airy place with a bay window, shower stool and hand-held control—Phil’s first easy shower this trip—we began to rally.

Vancouver’s imposing array of pale grey and white and faded aqua skyscrapers appears to rest on water. None of those black Darth Vader towers we have at home. Outside our hotel, Pelican Bay hosts a bounty of boats. Private pleasure craft from kayaks to double-masted sailboats ply its waters, along with commercial ferries, aquabuses and water taxis. I took deep breaths of cool, moist air. Our Monday breakfast was at windows overlooking the docks. Streets jammed on Sunday were empty.

Barbara and Dan met us for lunch at the hotel. “This is bizarre” Barbara commented. Indeed. We graduated from high school together in Vero Beach, Florida in 1962, knew each other but weren’t close, never met again until this moment. Our reconnect was the result of social media miracle-working.

We both adored Mrs. Carlton, our 12th grade English teacher, who influenced our decisions to become teachers ourselves. I hadn’t known that, nor that Barbara’s family was also originally from New York. Via Facebook, we already knew we had similar politics, putting us in the minority of our classmates. But the topper: Barbara also had two early marriages before settling in with the third for the duration. I had enjoyed thinking myself the lone oddball. Meeting Barbara deflated my overblown sense of uniqueness while simultaneously enhancing my sense of community.

Barbara and Pat, Vancouver, 2017

While in Vancouver, I walked Mound Park behind the hotel daily, saw students from Emily Carr University, the nearby art school, scattered around the park with their ipads. They had a perspective assignment, and one girl pulled up a sketch for me, of the path winding down to the docks, competently done. Plein-air in the digital age.

Another day we met a young man tossing a ball for his poodle-mix named Penny. “She’s a Mexican rescue,” he said. “From Chihuahua.” All our cabbies were Indian or Middle Eastern: one from Punjab, one from Iran, one Sikh. The Iranian said he moved here for his daughter’s education. She’s still in elementary school, but here, she can go far. My dear reactionaries, our world is already richly international. There’s no going back.

A few days after our return, Mrs. Joyce Carlton died at 93. I unearthed the yearbook to find photos of her and stumbled on Barbara and I sitting together for our Spanish Club photo. I don’t remember being in Spanish Club. I didn’t remember Spanish, had to relearn it years later. I barely remember that girl with curled hair, but a rush of affection for her plaid dress surprised me. My mother helped me make that dress. I don’t remember Barbara, the sophisticated young woman next to me, in her dark suit. But I remember Mrs. Carlton, who left lasting impacts like lines of wake reaching shore on students like us.

Pat and Barbara, 1962





This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Lessons from the Pacific Northwest

  1. Kathleen Cain says:

    Lovely, Pat, with your usual wry wit intact. Thanks for taking us along.

  2. Jana says:

    High School English teachers! A gift God gave us!

  3. Vancouver is certainly beautiful. Seattle we just drove by, so good to hear your impressions. We were headed to Vancouver Island.

    You know who else is on their third marriage (you’re going to block me when I tell you)? Newt Gingrich, whose current wife Callista was, perversely enough, appointed by our value-free president Ambassador to the Vatican. I’m pretty sure she was the woman he had an affair with when his second wife was dying of cancer.

    Anyway, good on ya for getting out of town to the verdant land of Northwest America, where the Indians are called The First Nation. I had never been there until a wonderful trip seven years ago (I’m just guessing seven cuz it’s a magic number).

    It was strange, because we had occasional access to international news, and two important things happened. One, Brevik killed all those dozens of kids in Norway; two, Amy Winehouse died. It was hard to reconcile these things with the raw beauty of the Northwest.

  4. Robert Jaeger says:

    Ah, those teachers who left such vivid impressions,opened our hearts and minds so gently, and guided us into teaching though we probably had no such idea at the time. Wonderful! Not so wonderful the electronic directions. If I ever drive out of state again, I think I’ll buy the new Rand McNally road atlas. I still have the old ones from previous trips with routes marked, covers shredded and stained. Welcome home!

  5. Beverly B Chumbley says:

    I loved reading about your trip. The older I get the more I realize I need to plan and plan and ask questions and more questions. Its amazing how we still see ourselves as being able to take on the world and new places and people and then we
    “trip on the sunshine” as Alex once said when he tripped walking across a flat deck. Thank God for those “moments” when it all comes together and we are just able to be fully in whatever the experience is. Those moments I think keep us risking the rest of the journey. Bev

Leave a Reply