"Where thou art, that is home."
We'd come back from our Yellow Island adventure with a full awareness of the ticking clock. There are so many things we like to do out west each year, and we always have a hard time fitting it all in.
One annual "treat" we afford ourselves each year is a night at McMenamins Edgefield. If you're not familiar with McMenamins, you're missing out on something really special. McMenamins is (now) a bunch of restored sites across the Northwest, from restored theaters like the Bagdad Theater and Pub in Portland, OR, to Edgefield, a restored poor farm built at the turn of the 20th century. Edgefield has the main hotel, which has been restored in a decidedly playful way. Each room is painted with murals and quotes about a former poor-farm resident, and the halls are similarly festooned with faces and fanciful scenes everywhere -- even on the pipe-elbows which run along the ceilings. Everywhere you look on the 38 acre site you'll find something you missed at first glance. Edgefield includes a vineyard (from which McMenamins makes their own wine in the Edgefield Winery), a brewery, a distillery (great pot-stilled brandy and gin!), a chipping wedge golf course (where you're encouraged to take your beverages along), a spa (complete with meandering hot-spring), several pubs, a movie theater, organic gardens, and a couple of restaurants. The Black Rabbit Restaurant in the main building serves up amazing food, quite a bit of which comes from the property. Edgefield also presents many small festivals and great outdoor summer concerts (this year -- Lyle Lovett, Cheryl Crow, the Black Crowes, more). If none of that suits you, I might suggest just grabbing a pint and walking the grounds to explore. Our family has a blast here every year, since we adults get to enjoy the fine food and drink, while the kids play hide-and-seek in the gardens. After weeks in a camper, it's nice to head for a shower and have meals cooked for you. We reserve under the "Hammerhead Package," just one package of several offered (including wine country tour packages, spa packages, and more) which, for $130, gets you a European queen room (bathroom down the hall -- robes provided), $60 in credits for dinner at the Black Rabbit restaurant, and $20 in breakfast credits at the Black Rabbit. This makes the room cost essentially $50 -- a bargain, especially if you consider what's offered across the whole property. Often we'll also frequent another McMenamins property while we're near Portland, the Kennedy School, a restored elementary school, for a movie, pizza, and a pitcher of beer. Pick one, explore them all . . . just get yourself to a McMenamins and see what I mean.
That week I had to fly back home for a corporate film job. It was hard to leave the family at the beach and spend three days flying, working, and flying back to Portland. It was made all the harder as I realized that our summer was fading fast. It was hard to believe that we'd been out, on the road, for almost ten weeks. On the plane I had some time to reflect on all of the amazing experiences we had together this summer. Even the un-amazing experiences were things we did together, solidifying our family bonds and creating family legends and lore which we'll recount the rest of our lives. These are the experiences which pull me through the more difficult times -- I can lose myself in the memory, say, of my walk with Winter up to the glacier in Great Basin National Park, or remember Sylvie losing her front tooth. Last summer's memories are still fresh for me, and the summer before that. I will always see the kids singing David Gray tunes at the top of their lungs as we crossed the Idaho high desert and remember soaking in the Bagby hot springs in Oregon. On the plane I had to close my eyes and remind myself that the summer wasn't over yet, and find some things to look forward to.
The day after I got back, we spent the day on the Kalamath River. The whole James clan loaded up a truck full of inner-tubes and kerplunked into what turned out to be rather chilly, glacier-fed waters for a four hour float down the river. On the way back to the Ranch, we hit the first real traffic jam of the summer -- I-5 was backed up for hours due to a roadside grass fire started by a careless smoker's cast off butt. We spent the time holed up in an ice-cream joint, traffic creeping by just outside the window. This reminded me of why we decided to settle away from here ten years ago. We had wanted to move back to the Northwest, but found the traffic so overwhelming (not to mention the skyrocketing real-estate prices), that we decided to live in a less populated place, spending as much of each summer as we could in the Northwest. That plan has served us well, keeping our daily expenses low in a small town in Appalachia so that we have more freedom to travel in the summers. It's also given us a freedom to be together as a family that most people have given up on. Almost ten years since we made that decision not to move permanently to Washington State, we're glad we decided the way we did. We feel like we've got the best of both worlds.
Soon enough, we found ourselves on the last night at the Ranch. The weather had turned from surprisingly hot over the previous few days to a murky, chilly soup. After highs near 105 degrees Fahrenheit, temps plummeted to highs near 60. Maybe this was the sign we needed -- "summer is over," it said. We said our goodbyes the night before. Sherri's folks had a trip away planned so, in a way, they left us this time. Tearful hugs and kisses were exchanged between cousins. Promises for the extended James clan to come east were made, unlikely as that trip might be for them. The lump in my throat was more a lament that this couldn't continue for the kids than for me, but it was for me, too. I told Sherri after our first extended camping trip out west three years ago that this trip had brought back a feeling in me I hadn't felt in some time. As a kid, the day after Christmas was always a big letdown -- months of anticipation and preparation ended in one short day, not to return for a full year. That realization would sit heavy in me for several weeks, establishing a minor depression that many people call the "Winter blahs." The end of this summer experience induces the same feeling in me now, as an adult. I see that the anticipation and preparation became amazing experiences which, just as quickly, passed into memory. Water under a bridge, or through my hands, and I can't stop it.
Now, though, that feeling is multiplied many times because I sense the single-ness of these experiences -- Winter will never be a ten-year-old, and Sylvie a seven-year-old, in our summer again. That lump in my throat? It's my heart. Sure, I've become a sentimental old man at the ripe old age of forty-one, but it does serve a purpose, this melancholy. I'm old enough now to know the futility of grasping for the past and the future at the same time. That's what is teaching me to "be here now" when we travel, vastly improving my demeanor and experience when we travel. The surest way to slow time down is to focus (which sometimes requires that you not focus so hard) on having the experience at hand, neither pining for the next stop nor wishing to be home.
Surprisingly, breaking down camp was a fairly simple chore this year. For this I credit Sherri's amazing organizational skills and the array of new tools we've employed this year. The Aliner Ease camper has lots of storage nooks, and each one bore a name by the time we settled into our trip. The "utility" space held the wind generator, wheel chocks, folding chairs, tools, and canopy. The "backpacking stuff" held all of the Mountainsmith backpacks, our tents, pads, and assorted tools for the woods. The "library" held the extra books, games, tape-stock, and, strangely, the lexan martini glasses. The GSI cooking gear was already easily stowed, so there was no kitchen break-down to worry about. I simply stowed the wind generator for the ride home, pulled the wheel chocks, hooked up the Tahoe Hybrid to the Ease, and, after the sixty-second fold-down of the camper, we were gone the same way we'd come.
We filled one of our large coolers with frozen moose-meat and frozen blackberries -- 150lbs of frozen food to help stock the larder at home. Each meal of moose or berries brings back our summer for a short time. I picked up some dry-ice to keep the stuff frozen, and we hit the road, following Highway 14 back up the Columbia.
Usually, we leave the Ranch as late in the summer as we can, making sure to be back in our house a few days before school goes back into session. We typically drive for four or five days straight, driving off our depression. This year, however, another family from home just happens to be visiting with friends in Dillon, Montana, and we've been invited to take a 24 hour rest there. Seeing the Kohn-Lionberger family is a salve against the end-of-summer wounds. This family is the final third of "the gang," of which the Broys, our Glacier National Park compatriots, and us Wilsons are a part. We're glad to meet Michael (aka "Turks") and Gabrielle, the Dillon host-friends, and share a meal to commemorate Charlie Kohn's third birthday. Charlie liked our Tahoe and Aliner, exclaiming, "Wook at dat! Dat's AWEsome!" I thought he reserved that compliment for us, but he seemed to unleash it at every turn, and at high volume, bringing our attention to just about every truck or boat parked on the street that way. Jackson Kohn, Charlie's older brother by four years, posed for a picture with Sylvie. Both of them had recently lost a tooth, and they had become a matched set of toothless seven-year-olds. The visit helped to remind us of the fabulous fall we were going to have at home -- school, the Paw-Paw Festival, Homecoming at the University, Halloween, crisp autumn evenings, and the coming winter holidays. We left the next morning, knowing we'd see the Kohn-Lionberger family in a few days, back in familiar territory.
At some point in southern South Dakota, a fierce headwind hit us. I noticed, first, that we were far less affected by it with the Tahoe Hybrid and the Aliner Ease combination than we had been with the standard truck and high-profile camper set up from last year. Still, as the headwind wore on (a result, I was hearing on the radio, of the ends of hurricanes which had struck the southeast), our great gas mileage became affected. We'd have experienced this no matter what vehicle we were driving, but it was particularly hard to see the mileage drop off on this trip. I employed all of the careful driving skills I'd learned by using the Tahoe Hybrid "economy gauge," namely slow starts and long decelerations, to minimize this effect. Still, in the end, we traveled nearly 1200 miles with the headwind, and our final mpg of the trip was affected. We had dropped from an average of 18.8 mpg to 18.3 mpg. Still impressive, and still a vast improvement over last year.
When we hit Chicago on a Friday afternoon, we realized we were only eight hours from home. When we stopped for gas, we were trying to figure out if we should continue on, or try and land somewhere for the night. If we continued, we would arrive home in the wee-hours, dodging deer and drunk drivers on the highway the last few hours. Sherri wondered out loud how far my Mom's house in Michigan was. We realized we could make it there by dinnertime, spend the night, and have a five-hour drive home tomorrow. When Winter and Sylvie caught wind of this, it became the plan. Our melancholy trip home was to be softened by our visit in Dillon with friends, and a final night with Grandma and family in Michigan. As we thought about this a bit more, we realized that every summer should end this way -- not with the cattle-drive home we'd been used to.
It was good to see Mom, my sister Barb, and all of the cousins. We relaxed and the kids lost themselves in each other for awhile. The enormity of what we had done this summer began to sink in -- we not only experienced things together this summer, but we documented it in a way we never had before in the blog, the still photos, and a dozen hours of HD video. I knew I'd be editing video and cleaning up the web-site when we got home, as well as attending to a million other tasks. We would be unpacking for weeks, catching up on bills, trying to adjust to the new school-year regimen. Sherri has several glass installations in the works with her artwork/business, www.bluemoonbottles.com, and the job of renewing her now depleted stock of tables, vases, tumblers, pendant lights, and lanterns made from recycled wine bottles. Then we would have the farm to clean up after a summer of neglect, and the gardens at home to clear up. We would be busy -- just the way we like it.
We left Mom's and made it home later in the afternoon. At some point that day, 67 days after we left home, our Green Family Summer was over. I can't exactly say when it happened. Was it a sign on the highway? Was it seeing the familiar Hocking River along the road side? Was it stepping over the threshold into the house? I don't know, but at some point we made the unavoidable shift back home.
I'm finishing this post a couple of weeks after we actually arrived home. I haven't yet been able to make myself think about next year, or our next adventure. I do find myself turning these experiences over and over in my mind. Like agates from the beach in your hand, they feel soft and substantial at the same time. I'm trying to bookmark these memories in my brain, to make sure I don't forget a one of them. I know for sure that part of what happened this summer is that my family grew together -- we now hold these adventures in common, and a hundred inside jokes. I now see a strength in my kids that wasn't there before they backpacked up to Baker Lake. I feel their confidence in themselves grow when I hear them tell people what they've done. I feel more at home as a father, better as a husband, happier. The only way I can communicate this to my wife, feeble as this sounds, is to say, "This is the life I never knew I wanted, and wouldn't change a bit."
If you've come this far with us, you're as brave as my kids. I think I can now safely pass along some statistics: Over those 67 days we traveled 10082 miles, averaging 18.3 mpg. By using the Hybrid Chevy Tahoe and the Aliner Ease, we saved over 350 gallons of gas. That translates to about $1500 in savings (we spent $2200 on gas this summer). We offset the reduced amount of carbon we generated with TerraPass carbon offsets, and generated all of the electricity we needed in camp with solar and wind power from www.talcoelectronics.com.
Have more questions? Want to comment? Give us a shout -- we're always glad to talk about energy and our environment. Look for a "manifesto" blog post soon which will outline more of how and why we do what we do.
Thanks for coming along. Thanks for sharing in our Green Family Summer. Keep an eye out here for more of our adventures, and let us know about your adventures.
jeff, sherri, winter, and sylvie wilson . . . Green Family Summer