Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Waiting for My Ship to Come In

October 22, 2013 – Waiting for My Ship to Come In

While in Oregon, figuratively waiting for my ship to come in, I get an email from my chief engineer friend Josko of the Rickmers Dalian freighter saying that they are scheduled to come to port in Houston at the end of September. “I really hope you can find some nice horse in Dallas and come to visit old friend,” he says.

Although September is months away that does not stop me from hatching a plan. From the start, I had intended to abandon my hospitable friend and the Cat and leave Oregon at the onset of the rainy season, but hadn’t settled on a date. In fact, I hadn't even been exactly sure where I would go. Now my future, which has been hanging on possibilities, on probabilities, on tremulous potential, is taking a nebulous shape.

And that shape is a familiar one. It’s the shape of home.

The time passes quickly and before I know it I'm back in Texas (by way of Eugene by way of Portland by way of Nashville). With no horse to hand, my mom generously volunteers me the use of her car and then I rope my sister Michaela into taking the road trip with me to Houston.

“Your old cabin is ready,” Josko writes me. “You and your sister can sleep on Dalian. I will send you an email after we pass Panama canal.”

Michaela and I spend the night at my second cousin’s house just outside of Houston as we wait for the ship to literally come in.

“How do you think you'll feel being on the ship again?” my grandmother asks me when I tell her where I'm headed. I don't remember how I respond. Excited, content, wishful that I were going to sea again, all of the above?

It's been over a year since I signed off as a passenger, shook the captain's hand goodbye, waved farewell to the Filipino crew, and glanced one last time over my shoulder from the backseat of a German taxicab to watch the Dalian get smaller and disappear from my sight. I know that Josko and the captain are on board, but I doubt that any of the crew are the same from my time there since they cycle nine months on ship and then one month home--switching from ship to ship as contracts are filled and vacated. And I’ve just missed the third officer by a month. I had wanted to congratulate him on his and the Russian cadet’s engagement. Rumors travel even off ship to me and I feel like family because of it. Rumors about me still haunt the ship like the ghosts the second officer Dom once told me about. Josko keeps me informed. “3rd officer ask me about you, did you write something new, I told him if he will be good, maybe you can include him in your next bestseller.”

I smile because I still think of the Dalian as my ship, the crew as my crew, the officers as my officers, the whole place as mine.

I see the cranes first. “There she is,” I tell Michaela, pointing, as we’re escorted by special permit taxi into the Houston port and down to Dock 26 where the vessel is berthed. It's like seeing a familiar face from across the room, and she's as beautiful as ever.

“Where is your cabin?” Michaela asks.

“There,” I point, “the fourth window up in the corner.”

The ship's only just come alongside. The gangway only just been put down. The taxi driver makes us wait inside the van while he checks with the crewmember standing guard. I don't mind waiting; that's what seamen do. Besides, I feel like a VIP, after all, the captain knows I'm coming and the chief engineer is my best ship friend.
A few moments later there he is, dressed in his usual black, grinning down at us as we come on board.

“I'm going to give him a hard time,” I whisper to Michaela. “Watch this.” As I approach Josko I say, “What's the deal with the black smoke?” and wave a hand back in the direction of the gently smoking smokestacks.

“Don't even joke like that,” he says, turning pale for a half second, and as a good chief engineer he can't help but glance at the smoke to make sure I really am joking. Then we follow him past the cargo and into the habitable part of the ship. It smells like oil, greasy and comforting, and I don't want to ever leave.

“Have you eaten lunch?” Josko asks.

“No,” I reply. We’d had snacks just in case, but Josko had emailed that he would tell the cook to make us something. We’ve arrived at twelve o’clock on the nose. Lunch time. We go up one level to the officers’ mess room. Out of habit I go for my old place setting and then I stop, “Where do we sit?”

He motions me down. It's okay. I haven't been replaced, at least not today. I'm in my usual spot to Josko’s right. Michaela gets the place to his left. After lunch we head up three flights of stairs to the D Deck. My cabin door is unlocked, the key to lock it back up while in port is on the table, there's a new vase of fake flowers up above the couch, but other than that it looks the same. Michaela and I put our bags down and Josko leaves us to see if the new chief engineer has arrived yet, and to supervise the inspections down in the engine room.

“I could live here,” Michaela says, looking in the closet, checking out the bathroom, testing the comfort of the bed.

“It's perfect,” I reply. “There's even a little fridge. Everything you could need right here.”

Time on the ship for me stands still, broken up only by mealtimes. What I mean is that time on ship doesn't matter. Everything is the same, everything changes from watch to watch, port life is locked down, hours are marked by the activity through the window of heavy material being loaded and unloaded, time at sea passes with the undulation of the endless, horizon stretched water.

I try to warn Michaela. We might or might not go out to dinner in Houston with the captain and chief engineer. We might or might not leave the ship again until tomorrow morning when Josko signs off to fly back home to Croatia. We might or might not be left to ourselves until that point in time. Fortunately, Michaela is not averse to this unknowing.

“You want me to show you around?” I ask her. We get up to go, lock the door behind us, and pass by Josko’s open door. He's there with the new chief engineer who I recognize from having replaced Josko when we signed off at the same time over a year ago in Hamburg. “It's okay if I show her around?” I ask, interrupting them apologetically.

“Of course,” Josko says.

I take her to all the places I can get into without having a key, the pilot’s deck, the Blue Bar, the mustering point outside the emergency vessel, the library and lounge. We spend uncountable minutes on the pilot deck with the wind blowing our hair into our faces.

“I would spend my time out here,” Michaela says. She shows me where she would hang a hammock from one beam to another. It would be a good spot, sometimes in the sun, sometimes in the shade.

“I spent a lot of time out here,” I say. I lean out over the rail wishing it were sea instead of dock beneath us, trying to remember what it was like to be so far away from land. Trying to remember the cadence of the Atlantic.

She and I fall silent, both dreaming of a kind of freedom, our own kinds.

Eventually we head back to the cabin. Moments later (hours later?), Josko’s tall form shadows the open door. He takes us on the privileged tour up to the bridge where he tells Michaela the details about the ship, the engine, the navigational system, the new expensive computer, the cranes, the maps, the ghosts. And then down to the engine room--hot and noisy and ripe with grease--where he explains the water and fuel and sewage systems. When our tour is complete we climb the stairs back up to the D Deck and he invites us in for a beer. Here again, I take my usual seat in the chair, Josko takes his place on the long end of the couch, Michaela sits on the short end across from me.

Their beers leave circles of condensation on the wood table and mine on the arm of my chair. We talk until a few minutes before six. “Chop chop?” Josko says, glancing at the clock as if surprised to find the time changed. If we don't hurry we’ll miss dinner.

As the cook brings our plates to the table the door opens and the captain comes in. “Good appetite,” he begins, and then he sees me. I stand up and grin.

Hugs, introductions, catching up on the time, dinner, stories from the captain--it's as if I never left.

After dinner Michaela and I go back to the cabin. We take out our books and read while keeping our ears tuned for anything that might be going on outside this comfortable space.
And then that something happens, later, after the port duties have been taken care of, when I hear familiar voices from down the hall. “Do you want to come with me to see what's going on?” I ask Michaela.

“I'll stay here and read for a while longer,” she says, snuggled up under the covers of the bed.

“Whenever you want to join, just come around.”

And then I'm back at Josko’s door. The captain sees me first. “Come in,” he orders. He and Josko finish their discussion and then, “What do you have?” Josko asks the captain. He’d emailed me a month ago to say, “I must warn you, captain already prepare some wine for you and your sister.” But the wine got used up somewhere in between the email and now. “You know,” Josko says, “this Amanda drinks anything.”

“I have gin,” the captain says, “but I don’t know if I have any soda water.”

 He disappears and a moment later he comes back with a bottle of gin and three cans of soda water. Then 
Josko has to go on a quest for some glasses.

“I take beer,” the captain says as Josko begins to pour drinks, waving off the gin and tonic, “I don’t have much time.” Then he turns to me, “Where are you hiding your beautiful sister?”

It's like this on the ship, flurries of activity amid the standstill. The captain leaves. The chief officer, another Romanian who asks me when I'm coming back on ship to stay, arrives and allows Josko to talk him into staying for drinks. Michaela comes in. The captain comes back. Josko goes away to handle an inspection. Josko returns. Stories fill the room, liquid levels diminish and are refilled, more stories are told. The captain leaves. The chief officer leaves. Michaela and I leave. Because it's time for bed. The sun is long gone, the night well advance, tomorrow not so terribly far away.

I fall asleep content, tipsy, and happy to share this place with my sister. I’m home, for the moment, before the wind carries me off to the next place.

“In my language,” Josko had emailed me, “they would call you vagabundo. I will explain it to you when
I see you.”

But it needs no explaining. I am vagabond. Wanderer, nomad, roamer. The one waiting for my ship to come in—waiting for the moment when I can come on board for a longer stay.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Tennessee Stud

October 8, 2013 – The Tennessee Stud

My uncle once told me he was going to sing The Tennessee Stud at my wedding. It’s this song that’s on my mind as I head out of Oregon—by foot, bus, train, car, plane—towards Nashville.

The Tennessee Stud was long and lean.

I'm on my way to meet a friend for the first time in person. Only days before this I’d read an article about how social networking sites prevent people from having meaningful face-to-face interaction, true relationships, and can serve to mask real personality. After all, a person can create the character they want to be when they have time to think through responses, set up for a video chat, play games from the comfort of their own couch, post the photos that represent who they want to be. What we end up with is a virtual world with self-created virtual people.

And yet, within all that webbing there is also the real world. A real person on the other end of the line. The Internet, and even those cursed social networking sites, can allow connection to people from all countries and walks of life. I’ve found this to be true.

Case in point, Nicole, who picks me up from Portland Union Station and takes me to the airport where we sit and talk for a few hours before she has to get on with her day and I have to go through security to catch a flight, and I had met three years ago in New York City when I'd gone there with another friend I'd also met online. We were all linked by the commonality of raw food and our individual quests for health. Now, years later and with all kinds of superfoods between us, she and I meet up again on the opposite coast and catch up in person on all the things we couldn't read between the lines in status updates and from photo albums. Friendship. Isn't that the spice of life?

The color of the sun and his eyes were green.

Country music is playing over the speakers at the Nashville airport. It seems only fitting. I wait for the obnoxious, beeping alarm and the following whir of the baggage claim track to start up as I text my friend to tell her I’ve arrived. I'm singing along, out loud, to the song when across the room I see a familiar face, one I've only ever seen before from the illuminated wall of my computer screen. I shrug my backpack into place, tuck my phone away, and head her direction.
It’s go time. That tricky moment when the virtual and real collide. The moment when we discover if we like each other as people in addition to our online personas. The moment when I wonder if four days is too long for a visit.

He had the nerves and he had the blood.

But I shouldn't have worried, we hit it off like gangbusters.
It's not my first time to Tennessee, but it is my first time to Nashville. Erin and her husband take me on a tour of downtown where I see the Symphony Hall and the Songwriters Hall of Fame, cross the new bridge over the river and see the skyline with the glow of the sun beating down on us. We drive by the bar that’s featured in the TV show Nashville which I’ve heard of but haven’t seen. The next day Erin and I take a walk through the tree-lined neighborhoods with two-story brick homes that hint of old money and past time. Later, we all drive into the countryside and hike down to where the old Montgomery Bell Forge used to churn itself around at the Narrows of the Harpeth.

And all the while we talk.

When we sit in the chairs under the tree in the front yard warding off mosquitoes and watching the leaves fall gently around us. When we take turns at the stove to make dinner. When we venture out to the life-size replica of the Parthenon which I’d only just learned about the week before. When we sit at the kitchen table with our coffee in hand. When we visit Radnor Lake. When we drive by the old prison where The Green Mile was filmed and I get yelled at by the security guard for taking pictures. When we stand with our feet deep in the backyard grass and listen to the kids play in the schoolyard next door. When we go out with her friends to dinner at a Turkish restaurant and talk about past life regression, astrology, psychology, our childhoods, music, food, and how each of them knows the other, how I know Erin.

The phrase, “we met online,” is no longer one to chortle at or to be alarmed by.

As I listen to the table chatter I think about this with regard to the article because it was both right and wrong, the Internet can limit and the Internet can expand the world.

At a break in the conversation Erin and I catch each other’s glance and grin. I’m all for world expansion and I’m glad I can now add Erin to my list of “have met in person” friends. I’m glad she invited me to visit. I’m glad the convoluted lines of travel brought me this way.

I’m partially listening to three simultaneous conversations as I follow my own thoughts down the “How did you meet?” trail. Maybe it’s simply my writer’s curiosity for details that makes me think it’s an interesting question for any connection--friends, lovers, long lost family, enemies--what brought you two together? 

A chance encounter, online chat rooms, a blind date set up by friends, common locations, mutual friends, mutual interests, an animal-led meeting at the dog park, work proximity, a wedding. Speaking of that, I may never get married. Or I may. But if I find that special someone online (or offline) there’s worse things that can happen to me than having my uncle sing Jimmie Driftwood’s song to commemorate the occasion. 
Because after all,

There never was a horse like the Tennessee Stud.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Human Testing

September 15, 2013 - Human Testing 

Two things: 1. Turns out I'm a hypocrite, and 2. I don't have to be abducted by aliens to have invasive tests performed on me--I can sell my body to science for that. 
I've known for a good part of my life that I'm not monetarily driven. Once, during my days as a broke-poor athlete, I turned down the chance to write a three page paper for $50, not for the honorable reason that cheating is wrong, but rather that the subject matter was boring and fifty dollars wasn't good enough incentive for the mental tedium. I could really have used that money. Another time, one of my siblings asked, “Would you drink a bottle of Tabasco Sauce for one thousand dollars?” My question was, “How big is the bottle?” 
Of course this was hypothetical since neither of us had one thousand dollars to blow on a gimmick. As a matter of fact neither of us had a thousand dollars for anything. But I wouldn’t have done it anyway. In a third instance I was offered twenty thousand dollars to marry a foreigner so that he could get his green card. “Three years,” he said, pleading with me, “twenty thousand dollars.” I had dreams of marrying for love so I told him no.

Now a decade later, I thought I wasn’t any different. Apparently, however, desperate times do indeed call for desperate measures. I like my nonconventional life, but I also like to eat. And money, that cursed thing, is what keeps me away from claiming the starving in the proverbial starving artist label.

Avoiding what might be inevitable (e.g. getting a real job), I answer an ad looking for female test subjects to participate in an altitude sickness study through the University of Oregon only days after I arrive to the state. I’ve lived at high altitude, I know what thin oxygen feels like, and for all that test studies can be this sounds safe and easy. Also, it’s a five session study that pays out $190 and that seems fair enough. If anything, it’s more money than I make sitting on the back patio watching the hummingbirds fuss at each other over the rights to drink from the salvia. I go in for the orientation. Then a week later I go back to the lab to have my heart and lungs tested to see if I fit the study requirements.

The good news is that, as the tech tells me, “You have a good heart!” and my lungs are in great shape, too. “You can’t get them any better,” the tech says impressed with the results from the breathing tests, “but if you wanted to make them worse you could start smoking.” The good news is that I get paid $30 to be told this. The good news is I qualify to participate in the study. The bad news is that since I’ve recently been at a high altitude I have to wait three weeks to acclimate to the test study specs and while that time is expiring the study is completed without me.

The good news is that there are other studies.

The bad news is they use drugs to create reactions in the body in order to predict whatever these studies are trying to predict. Over the past five years in my quest for health I’ve gone to both great lengths and extreme measures to avoid drugs. The lists of harmful side effects and the long-term potential for damage to treat symptoms without dealing with underlying cause seemed like no fair trade for health achieved through good nutrition, time, and a healthy lifestyle. It still doesn’t. But at times, like now, good health seems like the Holy Grail that’s never in the place where it was promised to be. I just can’t find it. I start to contemplate the short term benefits of conventional drugs and wonder how I can get hold of them without doctor visits and needless exams. But this also requires money. So I revisit all the methods (ten-day cleanses, green smoothies, exercise, deep breathing, anti-inflammatory diets, heat and cold therapy, turmeric) I’ve learned over the years to calm down my overactive immune system with little to no results.

Meanwhile, summer spins away and with it, dollar by dollar, goes my ever-dwindling wad of cash. The summer which had once seemed endless and full of possibility is about over and I’m not sure what I have to show for it. I don’t hear from the U of O study people. I don’t hear from any of the agents I’ve queried about my two current writing projects. I don’t get any response for a creative writing course I offer to the local community. Each day I wake up with the same burning pain and the growing stress of a future I can’t seem to predict much less plan for. Some filthy lucre would come in awfully useful right about now.

I go so far as to apply for three jobs.

There’s zero response there either. I begin to feel unqualified, too old, undesirable, invisible.
So when I get the call saying there’s a slot just opened up and can I come two days from now to be a lab rat I agree without reservation.

“You can think about it and call me back,” John tells me.

“No, I’ll be there,” I reply. Then almost as an afterthought I ask, “How much does this study pay?”

“One hundred sixty dollars,” he says.

Drugs or no drugs two weeks’ worth of eating money for one day at the lab is good incentive. You’re a hypocrite, I tell myself. All the anti-drug protests I’ve made over the years are rendered null by this grasping for cash. I might not sell my soul for money, but I’ll sell my body. I can’t deny what’s true. I’ll worry about the effects after the fact.

The day of I get up at 5:30 AM and I'm at the lab before 6:30. “Thanks for getting here so early,” John says, giving me a scrub top to wear. While we wait for the cardiologist to arrive John puts IV needles in both my arms and gives me the rundown for the day. I ask him what the study is trying to predict and he tells me and I promptly forget. It has to do with heart shunts and elevated heart rates. I think it's for the greater good.
The cardiologist arrives and tests the blood flow into both my hands with a pressure and release evaluation using nothing more than the force of his fingers. Satisfied that a tap into one artery won't cut off blood flow to my hand he gives me a numbing injection and then inserts a wire into the thumbside artery of my left wrist. Over this he slides a catheter which will be used to draw blood, flush a saline solution and also to pass air bubbles safely through my veins into my heart which they'll evaluate on screen and catalog on paper. He sticks around long enough to make sure there are no ill effects and then goes on his way.

And then, John has me snort some lidocaine so that he can pass a tube through my nostril and down my throat to monitor temperature or something. “It'll feel like you have something to swallow,” he tells me as I'm following instructions and sipping water to get the tube down. He feeds the tube and I swallow sip after uncomfortable sip. “It should be about in the right place.” Suddenly, I choke, cough. “Sorry,” I wheeze, my voice raspy around the tube. I can't seem to breathe correctly. I try not to choke again. I try to keep from coughing. This tube is horribly unpleasant. The long day ahead of me begins to feel onerous. John brings over a machine and hooks it to the end of the tube watching some levels rise and fall.

“What did you do, John,” the third student whose name might also be John asks, “stick it in her airway?”

“It shouldn’t move with your breath,” John tells me. “We’re going to take this out, okay?”

I’m all for that.

After I’ve had a chance to recover, to drink some water, and breathe without impediment John asks, “Are you willing to try it again?”

This time it goes in the right spot, an uncomfortable rubbing spot, a day-long frog in the throat.

Next, Julia, the same girl who'd given me the original orientation for the altitude study, slaps electrode pads all over me. Then she and John get me hooked up to an IV. “You've probably never been more connected than you are now,” she says.

When Randy the sonogram technician arrives I get situated in the chair and John and Julia began to attach all the wires, connect all the tubes, evaluate the starting numbers and levels. And then they fit me for a mouthpiece through which I'll be breathing oxygen or room temp air depending on which part of the study we’re on. They plug up my nose. I never have been so connected before.

The hours roll by and I work to keep my breathing steady no matter what my heart is doing. I try not to think about the restless ache in my legs. I swallow around the tube in my throat. And as I lay on my left side for hours and hours with a sonogram wand and its cold gel pressed to the skin over my heart I wonder if this is the most uncomfortable way I've ever earned money. It's certainly the most invasive.

John coaches and encourages me through the full day of testing. At one point Julia says to the other John, “She’s really good,” when I’m breathing in time to a metronome. Eight and a half hours later when we’re finally all done and I’m walking after John to start and get the tubes and needles taken out Randy says, “What a trooper!”

Having the throat tube out is a blessed relief. Then go the IV needles.

When the catheter comes out John sits in front of me holding pressure to my wrist for a full fifteen minutes. And then I have to sit another fifteen with ice on it. And when that time is up Julia wraps me from forearm to wrist and tells me not to get the scabbing arterial hole wet for forty-eight hours. “It might seem a bit overkill,” John had said, “but better safe than sorry.”

They cut me a check before I leave. And as I walk out with my money in hand I feel like there should be a moral to the day--something I could say against nonconsensual human testing-- some indictment against the horrors inflicted on the Jews during World War II (I've just finished a book recounting some of the atrocities) and against the ill treatment of people of all races and religions whose humanity has been overlooked and used--something I could speak to against the horrors of animal testing, but I don't know how, I don’t know what words to say since I was just in it for the money.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Get Your Kicks on Route 126

August 26, 2013 – Get Your Kicks on Route 126

We're only one hour off of our tentative schedule when I pull out of the driveway and start in the direction of Main Street. My friend had suggested that while we have access to a car (we didn't steal it and I'm sure we have permission to take it on weekend road trips) we should go drive the Oregon Scenic Byway, and I, not one for missing out on adventures, had agreed. It's a good day for a drive. Despite the forecast it's not raining and the dismal all-encompassing cloud cover I'd expected is broken up into pleasant fluffy clouds with joyous blue sky underneath. This is a much better way to spend the day than sitting in front of my computer trying to hatch up ideas for how to manage the rest of my life. I've been doing that all week. The freedom of being behind the wheel, having an open road before me, and a day promising unlimited possibilities has come at just the right time.

My friend is the idea originator, music controller, and the navigator. Her plan is for us to take Main Street/Highway 126 east from Springfield through Leaburg, Vida, and Blue River until we hit Highway 242 and the way to Sisters which will then loop us back to Highway 126 and take us back home. It's really quite a simple plan; one with excellent scenery.

“It's about fifty miles each way and the guidebook suggests allowing two to three hours for the trip,” my friend tells me. Given our penchant for turning hours into hours I estimate five to seven hours and glibly say, “So we'll be back Monday morning then.” After all we did turn a 33 mile trip around Crater Lake into a seven hour event. I settle my hands around the wheel and smile. What would it matter if it did take us days? We’re tourists with in-state license plates. We’ve packed our snacks for the day, bid the cat adieu, and are on the road.

“We've got just over half tank of gas,” I say, doing driver’s inventory.

“There are plenty of stations on the way out of town,” my friend says. “When you find one you like stop.”

Oregon doesn't have self-service gas stations. They don't have 24-hour gas stations (that I've seen). And I'm not sure that I like this. Especially on road trips I've always enjoyed the independence of fueling my own car, using the time to stretch my legs, cleaning off the windows, and checking tires and oil levels. I'm a do-it-yourself, get it done kind of person (most of the time) and served gas stations don't cater well to that. It's probably one of my control issue issues. “Sometimes there are really long lines or the attendant takes forever to come,” my friend says. “But it's really nice when it's raining not have to get out.” However, since neither of us owns a car we only occasionally have to worry about our likes and dislikes with regards to Oregon’s fuel stops. Times like now.

I find a station and pull in. The attendant is helping someone else and eventually he makes his way to us. I hand him the credit card for payment, tell him which octane to pump, and how much. He gets started on it. 
“Are we allowed to ask him to do the windows?” I ask my friend, peering through the rain-dirt-speckled windshield.

“I guess so,” my friend says.

“Are we supposed to tip?”

“I don't think so.”

When the attendant hands the card back I tentatively ask him, “Would it be possible for you to clean the windows?”

He says sure as if it's not such an unusual request (to my relief) and proceeds to squeegee off the front windshield, my friend’s side when she requests it, and the rear window. I guess my side windows are not included in the free wash. Or it's by request only. Window by window. I’ve still got a lot to learn about Oregonian gas station rules.

On our way out of Springfield we pass a ridiculous amount of car parts stores, some strip clubs, fast food restaurants, mini marts, and other edge-of-the-city types of places and then we leave the town behind us and head into farm country. Blueberry farms, hazelnut orchards, farms that sell corn, peaches, and baskets (of all things) shift the countryside’s landscape with their differing crops and buildings. There in the distance are the rising mountains of the Cascades.

Our agenda is easy. There is no frantic rush. All we have to do is enjoy the day. I'm not even sure what we'll see--I'm just along for the ride. I'm just along to drive. Songs flit through my head: Life is a highway I'm gonna ride it all night long. On the road again. Country road take me home to the place I belong. It's a long and winding road. Only it's not. Not here. Not yet. Ahead of me the road stretches out straight as far as I can see leading us through the sky-reaching trees that line both sides of the highway.

We stop at the ranger station just before Highway 126 turns off to Highway 242 to mill about and read the informational plaques inside. We stop again down the road at a trailhead and walk along the path so we can smell the fresh pine, hear the wind in the trees, and get a sense of the forest.

 I take us on a detour to find a lake. We both agree that it won’t compete with Crater Lake, but I still want to give this lake its fair chance. After all, I’m not an “if you’ve seen one lake you’ve seen them all” kind of girl. Next we stop at a historical marker that tells us about Scott Road and how in 1862 Felix Scott “blazed a trail across the Cascade Mountains.” My friend reads the sign to me in a documentary voice and I gaze into the trees, up at the sky as I listen. “Portions of his old trail, found 1000 feet north of this point, are still maintained by the U.S. Forest Service and are used by hikers and horsemen.”

I raise my eyebrows. “Horsemen, huh?”

“Apparently someone else took issue with that,” my friend says, pointing at the sign. And we both laugh to discover that someone had scratched men out with a penknife X and written persons next to it. “Horsepeople is what they should have written.”

But we have no knife to correct the correction. “Alas,” as my friend says.

As we get back into the car I say, ““We're getting into the bad habit of stopping an awful lot.” I say this more as a reminder to me than anything else. After all I am the driver. Stopping at everything site, every pullout, every place with a view can be very addictive. And we've still got the lava fields, the Dee Wright Observatory, Sahalie and Koosah Falls to find ahead of us. But some bad habits aren’t all that bad. Right? I’ve heard it said that it’s the journey and not… well, you know.

When we come to the point of road where left will take us north on 126, curve east for a ways, and then slink us south to the 242 Junction and lead us back around to 126 I go right. My friend had left the direction of the loop up to me and it feels more natural to head this way. “I approve of your decision,” she says. Which is good because I've already made it. And we zip along at our sightseers’ pace.

I can’t help it. I abandoned the road when I see other cars pulled off and people clambering over hills of uneven, dark rock. “Is this the lava field?” Last fall when I was here I'd met up with a friend of a friend and he’d told me that the lava fields were a must see. I hadn't seen them. I'd been travel weary and worn down, not wanting to leave the house and not having the transportation to go very far. But now, here they are. Not anything like I'd imagined. I’d formed the impression (somewhere in my life) that lava fields were smooth, that lava rock made molten designs like cake batter in pan or honey dripped over the counter and then solidified in just that form. Not this lava field. Not these jagged black rocks. Belknap Crater has its own sharp-edged charm. And my friend and I get out and begin to make our way over the rocks toward the lip of the crater that we can see ahead of us. It's so desolate, a land blown up.

Another woman has gone farther than us--we've watched her make her way around--and we pass her as she comes back.

“Pretty amazing,” she says.

“Do you know all the history of this crater?” I ask hopefully.

“No,” she says, “that's what Google is for.”

“I wish she had known,” I tell my friend, probably too loudly, probably before the woman is out of earshot. But then, like a child, I'm distracted by the next shiny rock, the next slope to climb up, the lip of the crater, the horizon of mountains beyond.

At the Dee Wright Observatory we peer out at the mountains through the slots in the walls of the stone observatory. Mount Jefferson, Cache Mountain, Dugout Butte, Black Butte, Bluegrass Butte, Black Crater, North Sister, Middle Sister, Little Brother, Condon Butte, Scott Mountain, South Belknap Cone, Little Belknap, and Mount Washington, Mount Hood, Bald Peter, Green Ridge, and Horsepasture Mountain are all visible when the weather is optimal. I'm too distracted by the three little boys being shown around by their grandparents to pay too much attention to which mountains I see and which ones I don't. Their enthusiasm is contagious. Not that I need much help with my own. At the top of the observatory one of the little boys drops to his stomach to look through the rain hole (at least that's what I assume it is) and shouts, “A telescope!” The other two boys drop to their stomachs and take their turns looking through the square slot. I want to follow their lead, to scoot them out of the way and plead, “Let me see.”

“I wish it were a telescope,” I say under my breath. “Wouldn't that be awesome?”

“Can you imagine being here at night?” my friend asks. We both pause for a moment to imagine the darkness and the stars.

Then it's time to get back in the car. We drive through the town of Sisters, a quaint and somewhat touristy town with ice cream shops and knickknack stores and spinning lawn ornaments set out for sale. We could stop, shop around, visit the vintage store, but it feels too busy and I don't want to get out here. So I turn the car around and head us back to the Byway.

Our final stop is the Sahalie Falls viewpoint. It's still summer and there are a lot of people here just like us to see the falls. We traipse behind a couple and find our way down the trail. I hear the roar of Sahalie Falls before I see it. The water churns from the heights at top speed, falling gallons at a time to foam at the drop and then rush on ahead. Continuous movement. We take some pictures and press on. Trees make a barrier between the river and the path. More trees line the other side. Sunlight trickles over us through the leaves. The air gathers cold into its hands off the Mackenzie River and blows it at us. It's a far cry from the heat glinting off the lava rocks we’ve only recently come from. Braving the chill and wanting to know just how cold it is we stick our feet into the Mackenzie. Sure enough, it's icy cold, refreshing, and blue. Blue with cold.

“It seems cold enough to put in your hand and come back out with a handful of ice cubes,” I say. It really 

With our feet mostly dry and our shoes back on we descend the trail toward Koosah Falls. A quarter of a mile, half a mile, I'm not really sure. Again, I hear it before I see it. Not as many people are here and we stand and enjoy the deafening roar of the water.

“This reminds me of the waterfall in The Mission,” my friend says. The Mission is a film about the Spanish conquest in South America, religion and love and revenge, a heartrending tale about life and pain and joy and hope. At one point the Jesuit missionary and his new recruit played by Robert De Niro climb the falls in order to reach the South American tribe they’re working to convert. Robert De Niro, ex-slave trader and murderer, in an act of penitence climbs the falls carrying his armor and sword in a treacherous bundle behind him. He almost hopes to fall, he almost hopes to let the baggage of his past carry him down to his death. I think about this as I stare at Koosah Falls. I think about the punishment we inflict upon ourselves, the depths of pain people experience, and the overwhelming grief-joy when redemption is discovered. I think about the strength needed to climb up a roaring falls. I think about how cold it is here in this water.

As we head back to the car I hum the main melody--a haunting, beautiful melody--from the film. And when we buckle in I ask my friend if she'll play the soundtrack for our drive home.

The music accompanies us, the sun lowers itself into the western sky, and we keep our thoughts to ourselves for a few miles.

I'm thinking about what's next for me. Where will I go? What will I do? How will I make it work? And then I think, Be here, be here now. For just this moment.

Because maybe this trip is a metaphor for life or life is a metaphor for this trip. Anticipate the coming road, but be sure to look at the sights the current road has to offer. After all, that old Good Book did say, “Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?” Sure, it might be nice to be a tad bit taller but I know that I’ll find my way my own way. With or without worry. Somehow. Someway. That’ll I’ll do what I can to keep living my life the way I feel it should be lived. And of course, today, while I’m here, I’ll get my kicks on Route 126.