I Didn’t Change My Mind

I sat in the exam room, answering the standard questions doctors ask when getting to know new patients. My tone remained flat until we got to the subject of surgeries.

“I see you had a tubal ligation in 2017,” she said. I suppressed a smirk. I knew what was coming next. “And how many times have you been pregnant?”

“None,” I answered, and allowed the smirk to surface.

“Oh! Okay,” she said, and then repeated the word “okay” a little too reassuringly. I’d have taken it as a judgment (no matter how hard she tried not to make it) had I not seen a split second of envy cross her face. Make no mistake, the expression was as fleeting as her initial surprise, that little crack in professionalism that I’d instigated completely, but it was there long enough for me to guess—and it’s only a guess—that she had at least 3 kids, and likely a rough morning with them.

I haven’t written a lot about being child-free by choice (CFBC), mainly because it’s not that remarkable. All the voluntarily childless did differently than anyone else is make the perfectly valid decision not to procreate. We’re not even all that rare anymore. In fact, we’ve become so common that most of the articles that turn up in my search to show how common we’ve become are at least 2 years old. We’re literally old news.

What I haven’t found a lot of is what to expect in your real, day-to-day life when you are not only CFBC, but you’re a woman who decided to cement your decision with sterilization. What happens when the people who insisted you’d change your mind find that you’ve doubled down and had yourself surgically altered to be sure your body can’t betray your made-up mind? *Cracks knuckles* Shall we begin?

Things I Expected

I’ve already written about all it took just to have the procedure, so I won’t rehash it here, but to say there were obstacles—sexist, misogynist obstacles—would be understating the issue. Of course, those obstacles were set under the guise of concern that I’d change my mind because apparently women are flighty and incapable of making life decisions (but not too flighty to birth and raise children). So, when I finally had the procedure, it came with a strong sense of victory.

A lot of people turned out to be pretty cool and congratulated me for finally getting what I wanted (even if it wasn’t what they wanted). I’ve been fortunate enough in my life to have a lot of really supportive people around me. However, as expected, there was a handful of not so cool people.

Some people continued to harp on the idea that I might change my mind. The best of them shrugged and told me there’s always adoption; the worst of them insisted that I’d be sorry and actively tried to upset me. Methods of agitation varied from extensive lines of questioning designed to make me feel regretful (always an entertaining volley), to pure and simple judgment. I once had someone more than imply and all but say, “I had to do it. What makes you think you can get away without doing it?” Just sit with that implication for a second.

A very small number of people were so offended by my decision that they don’t have much to say to me at all anymore. Their silence is an improvement. Your mileage may vary.

Given the timing of my procedure, two years ago today on March 10, 2017, there was speculation as to whether I was undergoing the procedure in response to the election; that I’d bought into some fear mongering propaganda and believed I’d lose all rights as a woman. I admit that as I sat at my yearly exam, talking to my OB/GYN about birth control, the political situation certainly crossed my mind, but that was just the newest reality on a long list of reasons I’d wanted to be sterilized for years. My story shut down speculation for anyone interested in hearing it more than making their own point. That said, looking around, if I had gotten my procedure out of fear of the political situation, I’d have been absolutely justified. And that’s all I’ll say on the topic.

The thing is that all of this was expected, and I made my decision anyway. So…

Things I Somehow Didn’t Expect

Women who have had children often talk about their pre-baby bodies, or getting their bodies back, or how they love their post-baby bodies, or literally anything to be said about the fact that a woman’s body is different after childbirth. Basically, a whole lot of things that go wonky with our bodies can rightfully be blamed on carrying and birthing children. “Damn kid destroyed my body!” a friend exclaimed before smothering her son in kisses.

So, what happens when there’s never been a pregnancy and there’s no child to blame?

You fall apart for no damn reason at all, that’s what!

My mother and I were talking about aging, and though I’m 25 years my mother’s junior, I had a lot to complain about that day. “I just don’t understand!” I exclaimed about my latest little infirmity. My mother laughed and said, completely free of judgment, “I imagine it’s harder for you. I got to blame you and your brother for screwing up my body, but you? You’re just getting old.” She laughed and laughed.

Thanks, Mom.

The other thing I didn’t expect was the guilt. Not the obvious guilt like the how-could-we-not-give-our-parents-grandchildren variety (which we actually never got from our parents, though I know I heard it from a family friend or two), but the little voice in my own head that says, “You know you have the time for that. It’s not like you have kids.” Whether it’s a career opportunity, volunteering my time for a cause I support, or sitting at my desk to write for another hour, that little voice is always there reminding me that there are no little me-s I have to deal with. My time is mine and I can spend it as I please. So, maybe I shouldn’t spend it all watching reality TV? (That is not an invitation to recruit me to your cause.)

Things I’d Been Warned About That Didn’t Happen

A coworker and I got engaged around the same time. We were chatting one day, and she told me how the ring wasn’t even warm on her finger yet and she and her fiancé were already being interrogated about having kids. I nodded, rolled my eyes in commiseration, and chewed on a corn chip. I knew what she was going through. I’d already hurt a couple of feelings with my responses to the same questions. Though she was more open to the idea of having children than I was, that didn’t say a whole lot. I swallowed my corn chip and didn’t take another. My coworker’s expression had changed. Her lips still formed a smile, but her eyes had gone a bit dull as she told me, “I said I really wasn’t sure about kids and then they asked what’s the point of getting married at all if we weren’t having children.”

Most of that conversation is lost to the deepest archives of my memory, but that last part still resonates. How dare anyone say that to someone still basking in the glow of an engagement! How dare anyone say that to a woman at all? We’re not incubators. Still, her story proved just how tactless friends and family can be and so I expected to spend some time defending the decision to get married. Part of me still does, but so far, no one has tried to invalidate my marriage (at least not over lack of children), and I’m not sure if I’m relieved or if I was so prepared for the fight that I’m a bit disappointed not to have it. (That is NOT an invitation to start some mess.)

But the crown jewel, the most important thing I was warned would happen that didn’t—and I’m sure you can guess—is regret over my decision.

I realize that someone is thinking, it’s only been two years! They’re not wrong. The thing is, I’m not wrong either, and the only reason someone would set out to prove me wrong is to make me feel wrong. Why would I give someone like that the time of day?

We actually do have a couple of really adorable kids.

And, should I ever start to wonder longingly about what my life with children would have looked like, all I have to do is hop over to a mom blog or group on social media to remember why I made my decision in the first place.

Look, I get it. Moms are stressed from their cores to their split ends (because no one makes sure Mommy gets a haircut), and need a place to vent about their little miracles. Sometimes that place to vent, combined with a fishbowl size glass of wine, is all a mom has to look forward to, or so the memes tell me. But then please, moms, please don’t act all shocked and shaken when some of us decide not to join you in the world of motherhood. Don’t question our decision and then get offended when we answer truthfully. I can only imagine the pressure—the weight of the world—that mothers handle daily…and that’s why I chose not to be one.

For a nice, morbid shift, I’ve been asked very directly about my deathbed. If my husband goes first, do I really want to die alone? Will I regret my choice then? Maybe I’m a jerk, but my response has been to ask how they can guarantee that they won’t die alone just because they’ve had children. Anything can happen. Maybe their kids are assholes (I know some of them to be just that). Maybe they’ll be surrounded by loved ones when they pass, just not their children, or family at all. As it turns out, people don’t like thinking about their own mortality and tend to drop the topic the second it’s turned back on them. However, since I don’t mind it, and while we’re already being morbid, I think there’s something to be said for dying alone, in peace, without worrying that you’re leaving behind someone who still needs you.

The point is that there are no promises in life, so I’m going to live mine on my terms.

Turns out, kids aren’t part of those terms.

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My Acting Teacher Was Right About Writing, Too

Each flyer, poster, and playbill on my acting teacher’s office wall represented a show he’d worked on, and the wall was packed. Some prominently displayed items came from university productions and were covered in student autographs, while others came from bigger things—New York and LA things. Though I couldn’t have been more than a college sophomore (and had gone “off to college” the distance of a whole 20 miles), I was convinced that I knew what I wanted in life. A wall like his was on the list, but there was a problem.

My scene performances were falling flat, and though the teacher I was visiting was neither my advisor, nor the instructor of the class in question, we had a rapport and I trusted his advice above others. Besides, the Theatre Arts department was a small one, so he didn’t have to lead my class to know that some students crossed their fingers to ward against drawing me as a scene partner.

One of my old headshots. The fresh face of a young woman who knows exactly what she wants in life. She is, however, wrong.

My teacher and I had a conversation that I now imagine we must have had a million times, that went over my head a million and one: Do you really want to be an actor? Of course, I do! Why else would I be here? And paying tuition, no less! Acting requires both bravery and vulnerability. Well, yeah. I’m standing on stage in front of a crowd of people, vulnerable to judgement and rotten tomatoes. That’s bravery. You’re going to have to find a way to empathize with the character and that might require digging deep and pulling up ugly stuff you don’t want to look at. In the real world, I wouldn’t have auditioned for this role in the first place.

His advice didn’t sink in in time for me to connect with Blanche DuBois, to live truthfully within her given circumstances, and my grade on the scene reflected it. I heard my scene partner got the playing-to-a-brick-wall curve.

Still, much to the dismay of potential scene partners of the future, I performed well enough overall to advance to the next semester’s acting class. Much to their delight, I didn’t last long in the department after that anyway. Halfway through my college career, an acting teacher asked me to drop her class. It should have crushed me, but I’d never been more relieved. I did one better than drop her class and changed my major altogether. If I was going to dig that deep—if I was going to take a character’s hand and let them lead me into some scary place I didn’t want to go, time after time after time, it would be a character I created. I’m a writer, now, I’d chirp, though I knew on some level I always had been. Fade out.

Fade in to the other day. I sat at my computer, frustrated as I ever let myself get without taking a breather. No matter how I wrote, rewrote, and wrote it again, my scene fell flat.

The observant reader knows exactly where this is going: I wasn’t (and am probably still not) digging deep enough to do the job right. I understand it, now; truly grok it in a way that I didn’t when I thought I was an actor. I’m working on a novel with a lot of ideas and characters. I don’t necessarily like all of those characters, but to write them correctly, to do any kind of justice to the world I’m building or my protagonist within it, I’m going to have to find a way to empathize with them and dig deep and pull up ugly stuff I don’t want to look at, or it’s all going to keep falling flat.

So, that’s where I am, folks!  I’m pulling up ugly shit I didn’t want to look at, and it sucks as much as it sounds like it does. However, it’s what needs to be done to make sure the novel doesn’t suck, and that’s the important part…even if it is taking a bit more time and a bit more out of me than expected.

And maybe, if I work really hard and write a really good book, some interviewer will ask me: So, how much of this character is autobiographical? And maybe, in the most appropriate answer to the question yet, I’ll summon a demon to devour their soul.

Time to Level Up

I took a sip of the champagne—the good, imported stuff. This was a celebration and I couldn’t have been prouder of my husband for getting the raise and soon, the title, he’d worked so hard for. Still, the thought tickled the back of my brain like the bubbles tickled the back of my throat: I need to level up in my career.

Let me take a moment to acknowledge that what follows is the sappy song of someone who got everything she wanted in life; the kind of stuff that rolls eyes the internet over. It does not provide any concrete solutions to anyone’s problem. It will neither be discussed as sage wisdom in the forums of accomplished women, nor taught in the halls of learned men, though it may get a few hate shares (a click is a click). So, if you’re not rolling out the guillotine yet…

The day job. It’s exactly what it sounds like. It’s the job that pays the bills while you’re working on the career, particularly a creative career. I’ve taken a lot of criticism over the years about how I balance the day job with creative endeavors, and it has mostly come from creative circles. From barely audible side comments and “just sayin’” observations, to dramatic tales of sacrifices made for art, I’ve lost count of the ways people tactlessly opined that I put far too much energy into the corporate resume and not enough into honing my craft. That these observations often coincided with something the observers wanted me to do for them is perhaps why I continued doing what I needed to do to live up to my own standards as a grown woman. The bills weren’t going to pay themselves, and it seemed better to work towards a job I could tolerate than to keep bouncing from something I hated to something I was about to hate in the interest of conserving energy for art (or using misery to fuel it).

What I got for my effort was a resume full of day jobs that led to good jobs in my field, which I shaped into the corporate side of my career overall. On the corporate side, I have enough experience that I’m in demand but not so much that it works against me. I like what I do and I’m good at it. I even really like my current position, which I get to fulfill from my home office. Things are going well.

The problem is the self-induced career stagnation. When an opportunity to advance the corporate side comes along, I think, If I throw my hat in the ring and it works out, then that’s what I will be—not a dark fiction writer. Though I am no more correct than the critics I’m able to ignore, when the thought is my own I tend to give it more attention than it’s worth, and that can lead to missed opportunities. This phenomenon is not unique to me; I’ve been discussing it with fellow creative people for a long time. In fact, many of the people who’ve criticized my balance of steady jobs with creative pursuits have also confessed to experiencing this same phenomenon, and I wonder if their criticism comes from not being 100% pleased with their own decisions (or indecision) on the matter.

Yet, there I was, trying to make a crossroads out of a clear path, when my husband called to tell me he got his raise and to give me the details about pending promotions. Now, I don’t really believe in signs. It stands more to reason that we see the signs we want to see based on the decisions we’ve already made, but if I had been waiting for a sign that it was time to level up, that would have been it.

As I said, I clearly don’t have any answers or concrete formulas on how to manage a career (I was literally just talking about signs). If there’s a point at all, it’s that:

No one can determine your path, assign your priorities, or define your success but you, and it’s perfectly fine to ignore anyone else who tries.

And THAT’S how we do motivational posters around here.

New Year, Old Me

“Did anyone get the number of that speeding year?” I ask about 2018 as I sway and swoon and sink into 2019.

It’s true; 2018 was a whirlwind in the best possible way and if that’s vague, I’m sorry. No one likes an internet humble-braggart. I will simply say that 2018 was a busy and amazing year for me personally (though I won’t talk about the state of the world in this post), and I’m still a bit tired.

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions because they don’t stick. Honestly, why does anyone even bother with them anymore? I do, however, set goals. Some of them are about as useful as resolutions (join The Avengers), while others are actually kind of doable (finish the first draft of my novel). Ringing in the new year with the yin and yang of the impossible and the possible is typical of me and so, as the title suggests: new year, old me.

Also suggested is that I’m not going to start writing frequent posts just for the sake of posting frequently. My career isn’t at the point where I need to create regular content to generate clicks or keep people engaged with my digital space (though I’m hired to do it for other people from time to time), so I’d far rather only write here when I have something to say.

So, you mean to tell me that you haven’t had anything to say for…

No, no. Stop scrolling and counting. I acknowledge that it’s been a minute and, like I said, 2018 was a bit of a whirlwind.

I’d intended to write a piece about life since my tubal ligation on the first anniversary of my surgery, but the second anniversary is coming up, so that extra year of experience can only make the writing better, I guess.

I’d intended to write a number of pieces about my career. I’m very driven when I know where I’m driving, but the GPS has been a little spotty in that area. I’ve gained some clarity (more on that), so that can only make the writing clearer, right?

I’d intended to acknowledge the two or three people looking for updates on my novel and let them know how it’s coming. I even intended to create a page just for novel news and updates. Now I guess I’ll have to acknowledge that it didn’t happen and provide an update letting folks know why.

It seems that catching up on my intentions just made my list of goals this year.

I suppose I could have just written and posted these pieces rather than writing this rambling preamble, but frankly, the preamble keeps me honest. I said it out loud; I published it; I have to follow through with it because, whether I publish my thoughts regularly or not, it’s probably still not cool to let two birthdays pass between posts.

Solar Eclipse 2017: Idaho

I wanna see the sun blotted out from the sky
I wanna see it painted, painted, painted, painted black
-The Rolling Stones

“Do you want to get robbed and murdered?” I argued. “Because that’s how you get robbed and murdered!”

We were discussing potentially abandoning our well-laid plans to view the total solar eclipse in Oregon for our absolutely-zero-plans to do so in Idaho instead. The news leading up to the eclipse kept affirming that Madras, Oregon was going to be everything we wanted to avoid and we’d been dreading the mess all week, though still determined to stick to our plan. The wildfires leading to evacuations in nearby Sisters, Oregon was the proverbial final straw.

“But we have a bed and a roof waiting in Oregon,” I said, one last effort to cling to the plan. Again, I alluded to the potential of disappearing without a trace, “You know, people who will notice if we don’t show up?” I really did have this irrational fear that if there was no one expecting us at a pre-arranged destination, then we’d never arrive, but you can’t say you have an adventurous spirit and then miss a once in a lifetime opportunity fretting about million to one odds. We packed the camping gear and hoped we’d find a safe camping spot as we headed to Idaho.

It was the best decision we could have possibly made.

Sawtooth Mountains, Idaho. I believe they are aptly named.

I was still apprehensive as we left in the middle of the night on Saturday, so I couldn’t have guessed that that we would have a campsite acquired, set up, and ready in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area by early Sunday afternoon. There’d been hardly any traffic and the trip was smooth otherwise. Joe was kind enough not to say I told you so or to be in any way smug about the fact that we’d arrived alive and well.

He chewed hungrily on his ham and cheese sandwich as I talked about visiting Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve (since we’d arrived without incident and with plenty of time to spare). Having the serious nature-crush on volcanoes that I do, I really didn’t want to miss an opportunity to see the lava fields at Craters of the Moon. Though we’d just driven over ten hours, we got back in the car and drove another few hours to see some cooled lava.

Craters of the Moon, Idaho

It was already dark by the time we made it back to our campsite, and I hadn’t seen a night so clear with so many brilliant stars in a very long time. Joe took the rainfly off the tent so I could fall asleep staring at the sky. I would love to say it was perfectly tranquil, but I kept envisioning Jason Voorhees’ masked face popping into view, looming above me, machete raised high into the air. Apparently, I wasn’t over the possibility of being murdered yet, but I was tired. I accepted whatever fate was coming and gave in to sleep.

A golden morning!

Fear of machete-wielding mad men might have been the theme of the previous night (and day), but I woke to a glorious morning. Eclipse Day!

It’s probably a jerk move to tell a bunch of people how happy I was that there weren’t a bunch of people, but you know what? I’m a bit of a jerk and I was absolutely thrilled that the viewing area we chose remained uncrowded. Even the porta potties were almost pleasant!

Thank heaven for small crowd sizes!

Then came the main event!

It started with a giggle, but then I broke into full on laughter, the kind of laughter that only comes from pure awe, joy, and delight. I danced under the shadow of the moon (if only for a handful of seconds), in the darkness of the day, like a damned fool. After all, it was just me, Joe, and a few other crazies standing in an Idaho field staring at the sun. No one noticed or cared. I should have danced more…and harder.

And then it was over. I know that’s anticlimactic after everything I’ve written leading up to this, but it was over. Done. There was nothing left to do but head home.

We made it back home at 2am on Tuesday morning—four hours before my alarm, but it was worth it. It was so totally worth it.

 

Sunrise at Sunrise

The alarm went off at 2 a.m. I groaned and considered snoozing, but the memory of the time I accidentally hit dismiss instead—and nearly missed a morning meeting as a result—poked through my half-awake haze. I untangled my legs from the sheets and forced my feet to the floor. The morning ahead was going to be far more enjoyable than attending a meeting.

We’d been saying for quite some time that we were going to make it to Sunrise, Mount Rainier National Park by sunrise to see the mountain in its morning glory and then get some hiking in before the heat of midday. It’s a bit of haul from our apartment to Sunrise, so we grabbed our cold brew coffee, made breakfast smoothies, and headed out the door and into the night.

The trip had been timed well and it’s not as though there’s a lot of traffic in the wee hours to muck things up. However, when we pulled over so I could go behind the little girls’ tree (damned cold brew coffee), I noticed the sapphire blue of pre-dawn begnning to glow on the horizon. We jumped back in the car and raced the sun…up switchbacks.

I wish I’d gotten a better view of the owl that swooped near the car and then changed course, retreating back into the woods. Sadly, it happened too fast to capture a picture. Relying on the split-second view and my memory to guide the research I’ve done since, I believe it was a northern barred owl.

We made it to Sunrise Point in plenty of time to capture this:

Mount Rainier faces the dawn. I love the line between the light and the darkness.

and this:

Mount Rainier on the near right; Mount Adams on the distant left. Lenticular clouds remind me of flying saucers.

and to watch the golden morning sun slowly illuminate the hills around Sunrise Lake:

The view of Sunrise Lake looked like it came straight out of a fairy tale.

I’d love to say that I had some quiet, spiritual sunrise moment, the mountain top glowing almost neon pink in the background, but Sunrise Point is a busy place at that hour and though the people were generally quiet as far as people go, I wasn’t attempting any morning meditation. Really, I didn’t want to. I wanted to get to the visitor center to see the trail options and to get an idea of the potential hike ahead.

I recognized the look on my husband’s face. I’d seen it before and had come to expect it. He’d been looking from the large trail map at the trailhead, to the wooden sign with arrows pointing the way to each trail just slightly beyond, to a rocky peak in the distance, and then back to the map to confirm. He repeated this a couple of times, and when he looked at me, the hopeful expression reaching his eyes, I sighed, “Let’s go to the peak,” and gestured to the trail ahead. He beamed.

I took a closer look at the map to see what I’d gotten my seriously-afraid-of-heights ass into this time. The peak in question was Dege Peak, and oh yes! Named the Sourdough Ridge Trail, the trail to the peak followed the ridge. The trail itself is rated moderate, but ridges often mean steep drop offs. I don’t always do so well with those.

Luckily, for most of the hike, I was far too distracted by the beauty of the subalpine meadows and wildflowers in full bloom (and by swatting the biting bugs that live amongst them) to think too much about falling off the side of the mountain.

I have more shots of meadows and wildflowers than I’d like to admit. It wasn’t just my fear of heights slowing me down.

I’d been assured that the trail was a broad one, and it was. It’s likely even broader than I recall, as I’m well aware that fear influences perception. You know that camera effect in movies where a long hallway is stretched far longer and becomes much narrower? Yeah. That’s what happens to my perception on a trail with a drop off to even one side. The trail could be 5 feet wide, only a few paces bordering a drop, and those few paces would look, to me, like a mile on a tight rope.

And there I was, on the ridge, a steep drop-off on either side. My knees turned a little rubbery and I had to remind myself to breathe. I could turn back, I knew. My sympathetic husband turned around to tell me as much, but I was not turning around.  “Keep going,” I told him. “I got this; it’s just going to take me a minute.” I forced my perception into something closer to reality and pressed on. I’m glad I did.

Mount Rainier (14,441 ft.) and Mount Adams (12,281 ft.) in the distance (far left), from Dege peak (7,008 ft.)

Had those rocks been more comfortable, I might have stayed at 7,008 ft. for a bit longer.

I might have even been a little proud of myself for getting that much further in my fight against fear—or at least, fear of heights.

Descents are always a little tricky. I’m traveling in the direction gravity wants me to go: down. The issue is that I’d really rather not slip, slide, tumble, fall, or otherwise plunge to my death to get there. I was just starting to get comfortable, traveling at a good clip if I do say so myself, when I heard rocks start to fall down the side of the mountain. My first realization was that, thankfully, the falling rocks weren’t coming from me or anything I was doing, nor were they falling near me. Phew! The second realization was that I was in bear country; signs outside the visitor center made that clear. While I was fairly certain that it wasn’t a bear causing stones to roll, I turned to confirm. No bear. Phew, once more! I heard rocks again, this time at a lower altitude. My husband and I stopped and stood scanning the steep grade for the source of the disturbance. We couldn’t see a thing until the mountain goat flicked its ears and tail.

We both tried to get a picture, but the goat was too far off. We each zoomed in as far as we could on our respective phones/cameras, but the pictures were crap. We’d seen clearer images of Sasquatch! So, I decided to stick my phone back in my sports bra and enjoy the moment in mountain goat territory. As a Capricorn, I enjoyed a giggle.

We completed our descent without further incident (if you can call an almost-encounter with a mountain goat an incident), and spent the rest of the day scoping out places for new adventures.

Stay tuned!

The Great American Road Trip

Black Dodge Charger

BeBe has seen quite a bit of the country and has served us well on each trip near and far. I love her.

As some of you may have read or might recall, two years ago my husband and I moved across the country. Not only did we learn that, holy crap! We can survive 11 days in the car together; we also learned that we kind of liked it. We figured that if we could do 3,000 miles in 11 days with the cat and a whole bunch of our crap and honestly say we enjoyed ourselves, then we could enjoy 2,250 miles in 10 days by ourselves driving down the coast from Seattle, WA (hitting the coast at Aberdeen, WA) to Monterey, CA and as much of Big Sur as possible after the landslide (spoiler alert: not very much), then turning back north up the interior to see more of the Cascade Volcanic Arc.

Now, many will argue that setting the kind of pace required to cover that much ground in 10 days doesn’t allow a person to really see any place at all. I would argue that while you certainly don’t get to know a place, you can see so much more when the destination isn’t a location, but the journey itself.

 Southwestern Washington and the Oregon Coast

The trip started out a bit cold and rainy and my mood matched the weather. I missed my cat. I considered the implications of exploring the beauty of my country while simultaneously worrying for its future. Then I stared out the window, comforted by the fact that I didn’t have the first driving shift, and missed my cat some more.

But by the time we reached Cannon Beach, OR, a place I had to see because the movie The Goonies is still a favorite, the sun had come out. I slapped a genuine smile on my face, ready for adventure.

The Oregon coast is home to some of the most spectacular views I have ever seen, so my smile proved easy to maintain.

View the gallery of Southwestern Washington and the Oregon Coast


California Coast: Northern to Central

Growing up in Central Pennsylvania, I had a very clear vision in my head of what California was—as depicted in Beach Boys songs and Hollywood movies. I thought I’d learned how narrow my view had been years ago while visiting southern California. Nope. The diversity of the northern California coastal landscape is difficult to deny. From the Redwoods (covered in the next section), to the rolling hills and blue skies of Sonoma County, to the boardwalk and sandy beaches of Santa Cruz, there was no lack of beautiful and different things to see.

View the gallery of the California Coast: Northern to Central


California Redwoods

It’s hard to stand under the majesty of giant trees, hundreds of years old, and not think about conservation. As some folks might have guessed, I’m a bit of a tree-hugger (evidence in the gallery), but I defy anyone to stand in the presence of those trees and not feel—something. It’s a peculiar feeling to stand next to something so imposing and think, we need to protect you.

Now, I’m not going to pretend it’s all spirit and majesty in the forest. The Avenue of the Giants features a good amount of kitschy roadside tourist attractions traps. My advice: get a guidebook and decide what you want to see before you start down the Avenue. There were a lot of stops we decided not to make because we were already all kitsch-ed out.

View the gallery of the California Redwoods


Bridges

Bridges are testaments to human ingenuity, beautiful marvels of modern engineering, and the best way to connect one side to the other (both literally and metaphorically). They can also be absolutely terrifying if, like me, you are scared of heights and can’t help but notice the hundreds of feet between the bridge and whatever rocky and/or watery hell awaits below. I admit to being intimidated by particularly high bridges, but then I think of the people who had to build them. I think of the people who spent the days of their lives, for however long they were needed, suspended hundreds of feet in the air, staring those rocky and watery versions of hell in the face. They had to build the bridges; we just had to cross them.

View the gallery of Bridges


Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

I’d posted some pictures of Monterey, CA to social media and a buddy of mine suggested that if we were still in the area and had the time, we should go up to the north end of the Monterey Bay and check out the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. This friend knows that I’m a fan of the 80s movie The Lost Boys, which was filmed in Santa Cruz; many of the scenes on the boardwalk.

Due to the Big Sur landslide, we had the time—a whole extra day, in fact—so we headed to Santa Cruz. I’d like to point out that this is the second spot we hit specifically due to fuzzy feelings of nostalgia for a movie featuring Corey Feldman. Say what you want about the guy (we all kind of do) but he’s a treasure straight from my childhood. Mr. Feldman, I got nothin’ but love for ya.

View the gallery of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk


Victorian Homes and the Winchester Mystery House

Northern California is home to some of the most beautiful (and most often photographed) Victorian homes in the country from The Carson Mansion and The Pink Lady in Eureka, CA to the painted ladies of San Francisco, but the crown jewel of the Victorian mansions for us was the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose.

A little background: My husband and I took this trip to celebrate our five-year wedding anniversary. We were married in front of the Haunted House ride at Knoebel’s Amusement Resort in Pennsylvania, so it was only natural to add a real “haunted” house to our travel itinerary.

The short version of the story behind the Winchester Mystery House is that Sarah Winchester, widow of William Wirt Winchester, built the home at the urging of a medium who told her that she was being haunted by the spirits of those killed by Winchester rifles, and if she moved out west, bought a house, and kept building on it, the spirits would leave her alone. The house is full of oddities said to be meant to confuse and/or appease the spirits, like stairways to nowhere, windows in the floor, and the number 13 represented throughout. Unfortunately, photography was prohibited inside the mansion.

By the end of the tour I was fascinated by the story of Sarah Winchester, a woman I would not call crazy, though history and folklore often do. Grief-stricken; yes. Desperate; sure. Determined; absolutely. I’m just not so sure about “crazy”.

View the gallery of Victorian Homes and the Winchester Mystery House


Volcanic Ground

Two things become apparent when standing on volcanic ground. One, the Earth is really, really old. Two, it is not yet done forming. High glacial peaks stand witness to the many thousands of years and eruptions it took to form them. Their very existence is cause to consider the power behind eruptions so explosive that they can completely transform millennia-old landscapes in minutes—and that some volcanoes are not dead, only sleeping, and could erupt at any time. (Even as I sit safely writing at my kitchen table, I know I am only doing so under Mount Rainier’s good graces. Thank you, Rainier, for not exploding and killing us all today. I appreciate it.)

Yet, a peaceful feeling came over me as I stood in a field and observed that I was surrounded by volcanoes. Humans and our issues mean nothing to a volcano, and that is a humbling realization. If it had been time for one of those mountains to wake up and scream, then it would have been time and there’d have been nothing I, or anyone else, could have done about it. There is a sense of peace in that knowledge, and maybe that’s why I love volcanoes so much.

I’m blessed to finally check Mount Shasta, Crater Lake, Three Sisters, and Mount Hood off of my volcanic views bucket list.

View the gallery of Volcanic Ground


Wildlife

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a sucker for critters. My inner monologue during any wild animal encounter is basically just a reminder on loop that wild animals are, in fact, wild and that trying to make friends with them might not be the best idea. It took a hefty bit of will to swim away from the little sea lion who clearly didn’t know that humans are supposed to stay at least 50 yards away from him. He wanted to play and so did I. However, I was happy that we encountered the bear from the safety of the car, and don’t even get me started on jellyfish swarms.

As you may have suspected, sharing these experiences brings me back to the condition of our environment. I remember looking at that little sea lion and thinking, if humans make this planet uninhabitable for ourselves, well, we had it coming. We knew better and we destroyed it anyway. But what did this little guy do? What does he have coming? I knew enough not to try and hug him, but I really wanted to.

View the gallery of Wildlife


Special Thanks

As mentioned earlier, the thing about doing a trip like this in such a short time is that you don’t really get to know a place—or any of its people, but still, there are some folks I have to thank. First, the staff at Paradise Pet Lodge, Woodinville, WA for understanding that my cat is my little boy, that I’m a little high strung when it comes to him, and that I needed more reassurance than he did. You should know, and it only occurred to me after the fact, that when he lies on his back the way you described, he’s asking for belly rubs—something my Salem only does with those he trusts. Thank you. Without you, this trip truly would not have been possible.

Thank you to that cool family we met in Crescent City, CA, for the preview of Crater Lake. Also, in Crescent City, thank you to the convenience store employee who gave us extra ice. You have no idea how much that helped that day.

To Gene, our tour guide at the Winchester Mystery House, your passion for the property and its history (and I suspect maybe even for Sarah Winchester herself), brought it all to life for me, too, and I cannot thank you enough. Few tour guides have brought me to tears; you are one.

Thanks to Robin at Harbick’s Country Inn, Rainbow, Oregon for treating us like we were the most important people in the world, for being genuinely excited to see us, and for sharing your knowledge of the area. I hope that surprise you were telling us about works out. Thanks, in general, to the people of Rainbow, Oregon for being awesome.

Thanks also, to those along the way not mentioned here, people who—even in the smallest ways—contributed to making this the best trip we’ve taken yet. Thank you, thank you, thank you!