A Visit to Mount Vernon Before Turning the Corner

Parrot tulips in Mount Vernon, Washington

I spent the next week visiting my mother Shiree and my brother Stuart in Mount Vernon, Washington about an hour north of Seattle.  Mark flew in from Austin mid-week to join us for a few days and I was really glad to see him since I'd been away from home for a little over three weeks already.  The four of us made all sorts of fun day trips - to a wonderful nursery to enjoy all the spring foliage and a fantastic estate sale (I got SO MUCH cool stuff!) to name just a few.  But we ended up spending most of our time just hanging out on the stoop, catching up and laughing while we watched my mom smoke cigarettes and putter around her garden happily.

We also had the pleasure of watching the large bony looking peony knobs on the bush in front of the house open into immense frilly blossoms of vivid magenta while I was there.  Peonies are just so glorious to me, but they simply can't tolerate the languid southern heat.  It was a real treat to watch all those blooms go from tightly clenched fists to big fluffy petticoats of deep pink petals.

The day before I left, I engaged in a lot of pitiful whining about how dirty my wretched car was, and Stuart and mom very sweetly worked to scrub the coating of insect cadavers from the exterior while I laboriously vacuumed up the flotsam and jetsam remaining from three weeks of road travel from the interior of the car.  It felt really nice to get the car all clean and shiny before I started packing it back up to leave on Monday.  Stuart was even nice enough to Rain-x my windows for me and it was a good thing, because I still had a lot of nasty weather to get through, even if I didn't know it yet.

On Monday morning, mom, Stuart and I relaxed together over a delicious breakfast in town before I hit the road.  It felt good to be resuming my journey.  As much as I'd enjoyed spending time with my family, it was simply time to get going again.  I departed Mount Vernon shortly after lunchtime and ended up racing along Whidby Island to try and make the 1:30 p.m. ferry across Puget Sound so I wouldn't have to kill an hour and a half at the remote and uninteresting ferry depot.  After some crazy driving that was remarked on scoldingly by an official looking guy at the gate, I pulled onto the ferry - the last car, at the last minute.  I remained in my car for the duration of the ride, enshrouded in a tiny cloud of petulant shame, all the way over to the Olympic Peninsula.

My mood soon lightened, however, as the Olympic Peninsula happens to be one of my very favorite areas of the U.S.  It's got a mountain range in the middle, which is surrounded by lush rain forests, which are ringed with dramatic beaches.  It's just SO gorgeous, and strange to boot.  I decided that since I'd be exiting off Highway 101 when I reached San Francisco to get to the home of my hosts, I'd just pick the selfsame road up at its inception near Port Townsend and follow it all the way down the coast.  Simple and elegant!  It would take me through a short stretch of Washington, all of Oregon and even a nice bit of northern California - all of it with the Pacific coastline on view just outside the passenger window of the car.

I stopped in Port Angeles so I could procure a supply of what I knew to be some especially good salmon jerky from a local smokehouse I'd discovered on a previous trip. I decided impulsively while sorting through the golden vacuum sealed packs of fishy candy that I'd walk to the delightful old-timey hardware store called Swain's across the street when I was done and see if I could scare up the supplies to help reverse a putrid curse that had commenced years earlier, just west of town.

My friend Nate and I had engaged in a hilarious and moving escapade in 2005 whereby we had planted three sequoia saplings in the middle of a dark and rainy night on a scenic pull out on Highway 101 along the shore of Crescent Lake.  I had visited the site a little over a year ago to find that all three trees had succumbed to a combination of extended drought and overly attentive State funded mowing.  The whole experience had left an appalling taste in my mouth and I was eager to eradicate the last bitter traces that remained.  I combed the aisles of the plant department looking for just the right plant and finally selected a large vigorous peony the same hypnotic magenta as the one at my mother's house.  This plant would be much better suited to the site than the sequoias and would have a far better chance of surviving, especially if I found a spot away from where the mowers regularly rolled.

When I reached the pull out, I spent some time scouting every little cranny of the tiny peninsula, searching for the best place to graft the peony bush into the lush landscape of the waterside madrone grove.  I rejected several sites right off when I discovered there was only a shallow covering of soil over the bedrock, but finally I found a lovely spot near the top of the tiny hillock that sits at the middle of the roadside oasis.  I carefully planted the peony and proclaimed aloud that I declared its name to be Love.  I figured that covered  pretty much everything and was much more to the point of what I was trying to convey all those years ago.   Mission completed - bad juju dispelled.  Excellent!       

I resumed my tour around the extreme northwestern tip of the continental United States, passing through a roster of gritty little towns that dot 101 as it curves through cross-cut timber country.  I chuckled as I passed through the formerly little known region of Forks which has recently become famous as the setting of the goofy teen fable "Twilight".  The town's shallow glamour and knot of vapid looking souvenir shops (which had each worked the word "Twilight" into their titles) was laughable.  I feel certain the local steakhouse probably has all sorts of thematically named dishes that would make me roll my eyes as well.    

I stopped to watch the sunset somewhere along the western coast, on my way to Aberdeen where I'd be spending the night.  It was the first nice color I'd seen in a sunset in a long while and it was even nicer that it was reflecting off the waves of the wide blue Pacific.


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