San Juans

It's been quite a while now since I made this trip north to the San Juans. It was at a really busy time as the summer was winding down, filled with lots of other trips, which is why it came and went without notice. My dear friend Lindsay and I used to take trips like this all the time when we were younger. In high school, our parents let us drive the 5+ hours from Eugene to Seattle for the weekend and stay in a hostel. Looking back, even though we were responsible enough, we were also really fast drivers and a little careless (read: u-turns on the freeway). I think our last weekend trip was for a Cat Power concert with our friend Jess during college. We'd been talking about a trip to Vancouver for a while, and decided to add a couple days in the San Juans onto it. And I'm so glad we did. It had been 10 years since I had been to Vancouver, and while it's a really beautiful city, I felt like much of what we were doing there could be done at home in Portland. Although, there were certainly a few highlights - getting to go to Old Faithful, the deliciousness and charm of Nelson the Seagull, a great meal at Bao Bei, drinks gifted by strangers, and MacLeod's Books. But I preferred our time in the San Juans.

The trip as a whole made me think a lot about the idea behind this blog, and the connection I have to both urban and rural life. I kept telling Lindsay that I could definitely live on the islands, and once we were home I was determined to find my own cabin up there. That obviously didn't happen, but it's still on my mind. Just like that cabin in the Berkshires that I'm always dreaming about...

Lindsay and I stayed in a teepee on an organic farm, with a little outdoor kitchen and shower. The posting online claimed there was a "composting toilet" which sounds like it could be charming, like in a wooden hut or something, but that wasn't the case at all. It was a generic plastic outhouse. But it didn't really matter.

Lindsay's younger sister Emily, who I've known since she was just a little girl, was working on San Juan Island during the summer for a whale watching tour company. Their family tells a story about when Emily was asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, at age of 3 or so, she replied, "an orca!" So this was pretty much her dream job. We bundled up and went out one afternoon on a boat and saw tons of orcas and learned about their migration patterns. It was really beautiful and amazing.

The two little towns on San Juan Island, where we were staying, were also very sweet. My favorite of the two was this one, Roche Harbor. I have no idea if my grandma ever visited this area, but there was something about it that reminded me of her. I could imagine her staying in the old Hotel de Haro, sipping a martini on the front porch, eating clam chowder. I got my itch to travel from her. She kept files of all the places around the world she had visited, with ticket stubs, maps, brochures and postcards picked up along the way. When I was young, every time I'd go to her house, I'd ask to look through her files. Sometimes I'd sneak a postcard of New York or Paris and hang it on my wall once I was home. I'd have her tell me stories of far away places, and I'd daydream of visiting one day. When she was still alive but could no longer travel, I'd always send her a postcard from every place I'd visit. Sometimes I miss doing that, as I know how much she loved it too.

The San Juans are a truly special place. I can't wait to go back and spend more time there, like maybe an entire summer?

____________________ All photos were taken with my film camera.


I'm really terrible at talking about trips. When I got home from Paris and people asked how it was, I simply responded "great!" Expecting more than a one word answer, I'd follow that up by reiterating "so good." When that still didn't satisfy whoever I was talking to, I'd add "we ate and drank, walked, biked, shopped, saw a few sights, and drank more wine."  Then I'd change the subject. Unless you want every detail, I can't sum it up in a short conversation. So this might be a long one.

To start, the reason I went to Paris in the first place was for my former job -- at a high school study abroad non-profit. In February I was awarded a chaperon flight to Paris, long before I had decided to leave the organization. Lucky for me, I was allowed to keep the flight even though I hadn't worked there for months. So in early September, I headed to New York for a few days where I met the 46 teenagers who I'd eventually take from JFK to Charles de Gaulle airport. Just me and them, with an hourlong layover in Zurich where we had to go through security and immigration. I only yelled at them once, but it was well deserved. Needless to say, we made it to Paris and the staff there took over. An hour after arriving, I had completed my responsibilities and was ready for vacation.

Sarah had been visiting our friend Kim in London the week prior, and the day after I arrived, the two of them took the train down and met me in Paris. There is something really special about meeting up with friends in another country. You get to see a side of someone that you wouldn't normally. The night they arrived, we went out to dinner at a highly recommended neighborhood restaurant in the Marais, where we were staying. It was packed, and we needed to get on the list. Neither of them speak a word of French, so I was elected to do all the communicating. I proudly got us on the list, but somehow inadvertently told the bartender that I'd like to go to his house. You'd think three years of college French would get me a little further than that.

Thanks to Kim's special European credit card with a chip in it, we could rent commuter bikes by the hour. There was a bike station right out side of our apartment, and conveniently there was always a station to drop them off near wherever we went. One day we seemed to bike all over the city to see many of the major sights. When I was 18, my cousin and I spent the summer in Paris living with her former exchange student. We were young and dumb, and didn't even have a guidebook to tell us where to go. But I think we made our way to all of the major museums that summer, and most of the famous attractions. I've been lucky enough to go back a couple other times between then and now, so I was totally content letting this trip be purely a vacation of eating, drinking, and wandering around. Luckily Sarah, Kim, and I were all on the same page. Everything was seamless.

By the end of the week, we'd buy multiple baguettes and at least two bottles of wine at a time. Just in case we needed them when the stores had closed. We didn't want to be caught without either.

I'm not sure how familiar you are with Parisian café culture, but it's something people do: sit at cafés and sip espresso. Did you know that the espresso is actually really gross?  For a couple of Portlanders and a Londoner, the coffee was totally sub-par. While Kim could handle it, Sarah and I couldn't. We made it our mission to find decent coffee. We never really did, but we came close at Rose Bakery. We'd each order two drinks during breakfast so we could feel properly caffeinated.

I was talking with a friend the other night about Paris, and he said seeing photos makes him feel weirdly nostalgic, which is how I feel, too. I'm not sure if it's even for a time that I've already had there, or if it's for a time I want to have. But there's something about that city that makes me feel like I want to make memories there. Maybe that's what we just did?

____________________ All photos taken on my film camera.


In the past year and a half, I've traveled more than I ever have before. For the entirety of this past fall, I was taking weeklong trips to the East Coast every third week for work. Once I was home I'd need a week to recover, then the next week I was busy planning another trip. Consequently, I've been racking up frequent flier miles which has allowed me to go on some real vacations. I just got back from a wedding on Cape Cod a few days ago, but before that a couple friends and I went on a dream trip to Texas. As the rain continued to pour down in Portland, we flew to Austin to work on our tans. We spent the first two days exclusively drinking coffee, eating tacos, laying around and occasionally getting into the water at Barton Springs, and then drinking micheladas at the bar at Hotel San Jose. If this alone was all we did it would have been a great vacation, but it was just the beginning of what turned out to be the best trip I've taken in recent years.

From Austin we drove to White Sands, NM, which is a place I'm not sure if I even knew about before we started planning this trip. When we were driving up, I was convinced that we'd pull up, look around, then go along our way. I don't think any of us expected to be so blown away by White Sands. Huge rolling white dunes that seemingly go on forever. I've ridden a camel in the Sahara Desert, and that has nothing on this place.

The clouds were beautiful and intense, but we didn't think much of it. We drove five or six hours down to Marfa, TX that evening, and the clouds followed us there.

We were driving south, just 50 or so miles from Marfa, in the middle of the desolate West Texas desert, and this was the view in my rearview mirror. At any point during the trip, if one of us wanted to stop the car and take photos, that's what we'd do no questions asked.

We got to El Cosmico after dark and after the reception area closed, but were instructed to just go straight to our teepee and check in the next morning. We were so excited to be there, and to finally shower after running through sand dunes and camping the previous night. We settled in, exhausted, and quickly passed out. Those thunderclouds that we had seen all day caught up to us and we were awoken just after 1am to extremely loud claps of thunder, rain and hail pounding on the canvas walls of the teepee, the wooden poles that hold it up rattling in the wind, dirt and rain flying in the sides where the structure wasn't sealed to the ground, and incredibly bright flashes of lightening. Christie's and Sarah's beds were more exposed to the rain and dirt, so they got in bed with me and we weathered the storm together in my bed with the covers completely over us. Of course we all had thoughts of the teepee collapsing or flying away, but we mostly just stayed quiet and let the storm pass. The next morning the girl at the reception desk told me that she was thinking about us all night, and how terrified she was for us. She was so sweet and said that we didn't pay for that experience, and didn't let us pay for that night.

We ate our way around the small town of Marfa. Food Shark was definitely our collective favorite. A month later I'm still craving the fattoush salad. My unexpected favorite thing I did there was tour the grounds of Donald Judd's home and studios. I realize this isn't what I was supposed to take away from the tour, but even just peering in the windows of his home left a lasting impression. I've never seen a house that I've wanted to live in more. No photos were allowed on the premises, but it looks like someone snuck a photo of the exterior.

Equally impressive was his library. His will stated that none of his thousands of books should be moved after his death, so in recent years an archivist photographed each shelf and cataloged his entire collection online. It was a massive project that took two years, but now you can type your zip code into the website and find the closest bookstore to you that sells a given book. Amazing.

I came home from this trip many shades darker (or redder?), and drunk on sun and friends. It's taken this long to be able to articulate anything about this experience, because more than anything, it just feels like a sweet dream that I really can't do justice with words.

*I almost forgot - I owe Michael M. Muller a big, public thanks for sending a list of recommendations for both Marfa and Austin at the very last minute. As our friend said, he's the salt of the earth.

____________________ All photos were taken with my film camera.