In the last year of the previous millennium I went to the USA for the first time. Though I flew into LA, it was hardly the Disneyland trip. In fact all I saw of that city was a blur as I was catapulted in a small Korean car at over 100mph. Someone said to me afterwards “What? You didn’t even go to Universal Studios?”
That journey took me to a town a few hours out of LA, a place where B-Grade actors retire, or go to spas to detox. But most of my time was spent in Oregon, almost every part of the state – from coast, to desert and mountains, except the capital.
I found my erratic journal of those weeks. The notes I took make me smile.
“Eugene: pop 100,000 – 6 wholefood/health food stores (that actually sell food!)
Williams (Sth Oregon): pop 100 – local store sells organic beer and veges, as well as Rice Cream ice creams.”
It was berry season. I ate not just black and raspberries picked straight from the vine but huckleberries and wild strawberries foraged in woods.
I ate no takeaways other than the exceptional organic salads and hot dishes from the aforementioned health food stores. Though an English friend, resident in the USA, insisted in taking me to a diner to make me understand that the average American didn’t live on vegan delights or get tofu dishes at their local Mexican restaurant.
Always a great fan of breakfast, I fell in love with ‘home fries’ with my scrambled tofu. I ate the best pancakes of my life, with whipped butter, maple syrup and walnuts. I learnt how important it was to ask for a half order of breakfast, so as not to leave the country too large to fit in the airplane seat.
I did not watch television or see a newspaper. I listened to the news of NPR a couple of times and caught up via the internet periodically when I wasn’t camping in the woods.
I slept on a child’s bed in a nice middle class suburb, a structurally unstable mezzanine with a lumpy mattress, in a luxurious ‘guest house’ attached to a millionaires home that could sleep at least 30, in a sleeping bag on rocks in a meadow, in a greenhouse in a desert and lastly a comfortable sofa bed in a quiet home in the middle of an orange orchard.
I camped on a mountain, with pockets of ice that hadn’t melted despite the warm summer days. Though I was told to be aware of bears, whose home we shared, those I was with were too superstitious to talk about them – so wouldn’t tell a girl from the Southern Hemisphere exactly what you do in their presence. There were also mountain cat stories – I never got it straight – one animal you looked directly at, the other you should never make eye contact with. Fortunately I never met either but secretly I hankered to be in the presence of such powerful creatures. In both States I encountered rattlesnakes. For a person phobic about snakes I had an extraordinary encounter with a rattler while meditating on a Mesa that was life changing. I learnt about beavers and elks, and lost my innocence about gophers – no longer a cute cartoon character once you’ve seen the havoc they cause in a garden.
While my internal compass had lost any sense of direction, I sat in on a talk on mountain survival skills. I picked wild sagebush to make smudging sticks. I got initiated around a campfire into the joys of s’mores. I sang to the moon. I watched the night blooming cactus flower (it only happens one evening a year). People actually paid money to hear me talk, in the backroom of a bookstore.
But most of all I met extraordinary people.
An etheric, beautiful man raised in a Californian commune, who was most at home camping in the woods.
His then girlfriend, a young, astute and intelligent creature who plucked me from the all male environment I was staying in and offered to take me to the coast one day, picking up quite rightly that I was in need of some female company.
Not one but two barefoot millionaires. Guys in their early 50’s who’d made a fortune but lived amongst nature in the middle of nowhere. Both of them cooked me salad. Both offered me more drugs than I could poke a stick at (including hash from Amsterdam that had been illegal imported in the intimate confines of a girlfriend’s body) – which I declined. I found the situations I was in surreal enough without any chemical help. One was a washed out, once famous musician, his lounge plastered with gold records. The other made his living being a hippy.
An edgy woman, with homemade tattoos, who talked of riding the freight trains and the community of other illegal travellers she met.
An extraordinary older couple, her with purple hair and a sunny disposition, him a grumpy old bugger who’d retired to a remote meadow and discovered nudity. He even drove us nude to the local store to get ice creams, they knew him there and would serve him so he never got out from behind the wheel.
I reacquainted myself with a colleague who was serene and honest. I wrote of her “..we could be sisters. But she is much better at being nice than me”.
I was humbled by the natural beauty and the equally as awesome people. My preconceptions of the nation were of brash puritans, but I met divine mavericks. I was overwhelmed with their generosity. Not a single one voted for Bush. Few I have kept in contact with but each one left an indelible impression on me.
I’m well overdue a return visit to that vast country. Do you think a trip to New York would be just the same?
Labels: stuff, travel