Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Off the road again

So these last few weeks have been remarkably like being run over by a car. And please remember, when I say something’s like being run over by a car—I’ve been run over by a car. I am being precise.

So where have I been? Lots of places, but most importantly—Canada!

This is the only flag photo I'll post, I promise.
You have been warned: travel photos follow. Go pop some popcorn or something. I’ll wait until you get back. If you don’t want to look at somebody else’s travel photos, scroll down to the bottom of this entry and stop when you see a photo of a blue three-ring binder; there’s some news about writing stuff down there.

This nine-day trip came about because three factors came together. First, I needed to do some traveling to take care of a provision of my late grandfather’s will (I was quite surprised to find out I was in it at all, but that’s another, much longer story). Second, I had a passport, but had never actually used it to cross an international border (or in this case boundary—apparently those things are very different, but the U.S.-Canada divide is a boundary, not a border, and people get upset when you get that wrong). Third, my flatmate had always wanted to see a live stage performance of a Shakespeare play in the company of someone who understood what the actors were saying.

So naturally, because we’re us, we Googled “Shakespeare festival, Vancouver BC” and planned the trip from there.

The journey started off with a daylong train ride from Los Angeles to Oakland, California. Here’s a nice view from the observation car, somewhere a bit south of Point Concepcion:

Tough life, huh? I must point out that the Oakland part was … less fun. I spent my early childhood in Crip territory in the middle of the Crips-Bloods war, and I got some uncomfortable flashbacks to those years as I dragged my suitcase (minus the wheel Amtrak had all but melted off it) through the Oakland streets by night. To their credit, though, everyone Flatmate and I actually spoke to on the streets of Oakland was civil, if not cordial. It was mostly the graffiti, garbage, and piercing stares from people who didn’t talk to us that had me feeling seven again.

The next morning, we rented a car at the Oakland airport and started driving up the coast toward the first two major goals of the trip: a stop in the California redwoods for Flatmate and a visit to my great-aunt in Oregon for me. Flatmate, as an experienced long-distance driver and a lifelong scenery junkie, drove while ordering me to photograph vineyards. So here are some vineyards, photographed at high speed from a moving car:

Not pictured: My white-knuckle grip on the camera.
That first evening, we had one of those moments that’s going into a story someday. We stopped in Fort Bragg for dinner, and took our pizza to a little seaside cliff to enjoy the sunset. Flatmate, who seems to have a special relationship with gravity, insisted on sitting as close to the edge as we could reasonably get, which was okay since I got some amazing photos.

The actual view. Be glad this photo isn't looking straight down.
Then we noticed we weren’t alone on the cliff. About twenty feet below us, on an even more precarious rocky outcrop, was a man with what looked like a wooden flute. As we watched, he fiddled with it for a while, and then began to play a series of long, mournful notes. He was obviously very focused on what he was doing, and I’m not quite sure he knew we were there as he made his instrument sing to a foghorn far out on the ocean. The audio isn’t great, but here’s a snippet:

Yeah, in about five years I might have the words to describe that.

Our next stop was a tiny roadside motel in redwood country (well, southern Humboldt County, so I guess that would be pot country, too). The redwoods were pretty, but because my cat-obsessed sister-in-law reads this blog, I’m going to post pictures of the lanky black kitten-cat who owned the motel. After all, the internet is made entirely of cats:

He was coming to inspect our room. And collect ear-scratchies.
And okay, here’s some redwoods, too.

The next day, we pulled off the road to have lunch in a redwood grove. Flatmate and I went for a hike. Somehow our half-mile loop trail turned into a three-mile lost-in-the-woods adventure. And now you know why I’m not an outdoors person.

"I'm glad we found water, but there wasn't a river on the map ..."
"That tree has a skull growing out of it.
The next major stop was my great-aunt’s place. Of my great-aunt, I can say only that I hope I’m that awesome when I’m 80-mumble years old. Seriously, I hope I’m still running a small farm (including a stand of trees that she describes as, “We were going to have a Christmas-tree farm but then we decided we’d rather have a forest”) and welcoming random relatives and their even more random flatmates when they scare my neighbors, barge in at an ungodly hour of the night, and then immediately run outside again to go stargazing. She went out stargazing with us, you guys. And the next morning she took me out picking blackberries and told me all about her older sister, who happened to be the grandmother I’d never met. That was … that was good. Pretty much the highlight of the trip for me, and we hadn’t even gotten to Canada yet.

My great-aunt's cat, emperor of all Oregon. At least.
I’m going to fast-forward through the next bit, including way too many conifers, the traffic hells of Portland and Seattle (useful travel tip—any city that bills itself as a coffee mecca generally can’t make a cup of tea to save its life), and the line at the Canadian border (whoops, boundary!) that was all of three cars long. Highlight of the border crossing: a somewhat cross Canadian border guard telling me sternly that my camera had better be turned off for the actual crossing part. Apparently there are dangerous terrorists who might be using random American tourists to find out what’s involved in crossing into Canada.

… I’m just gonna let you insert your own jokes.

In any case, we made it into British Columbia, managed not to get lost, and found our hotel in downtown Vancouver, which gave me a whole new set of flashbacks to my early childhood. Vancouver, that is, not the hotel, which was a charming century-old building that was extraordinarily well-maintained. Of the neighborhood, I’ll say only that we quickly abandoned our plan to walk from the hotel to the Shakespeare festival on the grounds that we weren’t completely insane.

View from the always-open window of our hotel room.
It was like living in our own private noir movie ...
But there was a Shakespeare festival! We saw two performances at Bard on the Beach during our stay—Twelfth Night and Hamlet, performed by the same cast and magnificently staged. I don’t have any of the really juicy photos because they were quite strict about cameras during the performance, but the lead in Hamlet was stretched out on the stage, in character and listening to an iPod, as the audience filed in, so I snapped a quick picture of him before anyone would warn us not to take any pictures. So there’s Hamlet, y’all.

I believe the track was a metal song called "Rogue and Peasant Slave".
Our second full day in Canada featured the other highlight of the trip, at least for me. Early in the planning process, when Flatmate asked me what I’d want to do during our downtime in Canada, I idly mentioned a desire to visit Bowen Island, the home of the humorous SF author Spider Robinson and the model for Heron Island in his Russell Walker novels, Very Bad Deaths and Very Hard Choices. Flatmate, being the nature fiend she is, was all for it once I mentioned the magic word “hiking”.

The word "trees" may also have figured prominently.
Now, before I start sounding fangirl-stalkerish, let me say that I didn’t want to visit the island in order to find the author. In fact, I made no attempt to find out where he lived, and as far as I know, he’s been in the U.S. for the past several months, helping his daughter, Terri, take care of her daughter, Miss M. I did not go looking for him, and I did not find him, nor did I expect to do so (though of course I would have been delighted to run into anyone who writes such wonderful books and sings such wonderful songs). No, I was just along for the ferry ride.

The ferry ride, you ask?

Do yourself a favor. Go read Very Bad Deaths, and pay particular attention to the bit where Russell is on the ferry to Vancouver. That part where he says that the tourists all get out of their cars and gawk in eerie, total silence because the scenery literally makes it hard to breathe?

… Totally accurate.

Library. With totem pole. Because ... yeah.
Once we were ashore, of course, I had to go take touristy photos of the island’s small library because—library! And we hiked and ate lunch and visited the World’s Smallest Candy Store (which may not have been the smallest candy store on Earth but was definitely very small and sold very good black licorice). And then we got back on the ferry and went and watched some more Shakespeare.

All right, one more Bowen photo.
Back across the border we went, and then it was a night in a Seattle motel that pretty much didn’t have indoor plumbing (the lousy tea should have been a clue) and two days on the train to get home. For the record, I still prefer train travel to plane travel, but two days is a long time for an introvert to be surrounded by people and mostly unable to sleep. That’s pretty much where I got to feeling like I’d been run over … a feeling that lasted most of the following week, which is why this blog has been looking like an abandoned shopping mall.

Almost home. Moon over random rocks and subdivisions.
And now the writing stuff:

See that binder? That’s Teh Novel a.k.a. The Resurrectionist’s Song (unless I change the title again). I am working on rewriting it, chapter by chapter, and getting it ready to send to agents and publishers and everybody. I told some very nice people that I’d have it done by the end of the summer, and I’m busting my butt to make that deadline. Masks will have to happen where it can.

Note the sheaf of random notebook paper at the back of the binder
(the shorter pages). Not part of the manuscript, so there's not THAT much to go ...
But for those weeks where I may or may not have a Masks chapter, I will be posting photos of Teh Novel. See that folder sticking out of the stack of pages? That marks the division between the early chapters that I’ve rewritten and the later chapters I haven’t gotten to yet. You will be seeing that divider move rapidly toward the bottom of the stack over the next few weeks … I hope.

I haven’t decided yet what I’m going to do for you lot for my birthday. But it should be awesome.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a few run-over-by-a-road-trip bruises that could probably do with a little ice …

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