Two weeks ago, we were briefly in the Pacific Northwest for an annual gathering of friends with similar literary interests (on which see also here and here). As the weather in Williamstown lately has been sweltering, we’ve been nostalgic for the comfortable, light-sweater temperatures we found in Portland, Oregon and (just over the border) Trout Lake, Washington in late June.
It’s a long day’s travel to Portland from western Massachusetts. Our nearest major airport is Albany, New York, an hour’s drive over mountains to the west. We reported the suggested two hours in advance, ate sandwiches from home with coffee from Starbuck’s and iced tea from McDonald’s, and caught a regional flight to Cleveland on schedule. There, with two hours before our onward flight and five hours to come in the air, we found some passable food at a pseudo-British ‘pub’ (fish and chips for Wayne, a chicken cranberry pecan salad for Christina), and with some difficulty negotiated the airport free wi-fi.
Our flight to Portland took off late but arrived ahead of schedule. Our luggage, however, was slow to reach the claim area, and we were delayed in connecting with our friend Paul, who drove us to Trout Lake. By the end of the drive it was getting dark, so we missed some of the splendid scenery while driving beside the Columbia River (but saw it on our return journey to the airport). We arrived at our friend Bijee’s around 10:00 p.m. local time, or 1:00 a.m. by our Eastern body clocks. Both of us were exhausted. Christina was so tired, she could barely stand.
Bijee arranged for us to stay in a lovely house not far from hers, while her neighbours were away. That night, we met the resident cats, Romeo and Tango.* We had been warned that although Romeo and Tango are outdoor farm cats, they might demand entry, and indeed Romeo came calling at the outer door of our bedroom (which opened onto a porch) while we were unpacking. Romeo is a big, friendly ginger cat whom we found it hard not to call Orlando, after the ‘marmalade cat’ in Kathleen Hale’s stories. He spent part of every night of our stay sleeping across Wayne’s legs. But Wayne also thought of him sometimes as the Rum Tum Tugger of T.S. Eliot’s ‘Practical Cats’, who as soon as he comes in, he wants to go out. We were told about, and at last witnessed, Romeo’s ‘party trick’: he likes to leap into the bathtub and drink water from the bottom, if someone will run the tap just a little – but only freshly run water, mind you!
Tango, a black and white cat, also hopped on our bed for inspection the first night, but after that we saw little of him. Romeo spent the first morning of our stay hunting for (and finding) a field-mouse breakfast in the tall grass near the house, while Tango sat, as if on guard and somewhat aloof, near the owners’ two horses in their paddock. Meanwhile, we were enraptured by views of Mount Adams on one side of the house and Mount Hood on the other. Wayne had only our little Canon pocket camera with him, not wanting to carry the bulkier Nikon, but the mountains, Mount Adams especially, are dramatic in every shot.
We enjoyed seeing our friends and talking of Tolkien, Shakespeare, and much else. It was a very successful gathering. We had good food both at Bijee’s and in a pizza restaurant in nearby Bingen, the Solstice Wood Fire Café: Christina had a thin-crust pizza with local pears, blue cheese, and caramelized onions; Wayne had a margherita pizza (marinara, basil, mozzarella); and we shared an apple crumble with vanilla ice cream. The weather, as we said, was very pleasant; there was rain only on the drive back to the airport three days after we arrived. Because we had a Monday morning flight out of Portland, we stayed the Sunday night near the airport. Our friend Richard, who had an earlier flight, was at the same hotel, and we had the rare chance of a long talk with him over supper, especially as it poured rain and we had to wait it out in the Shari’s Restaurant. Wayne had a plate featuring grilled Alaska salmon, while Christina had the strawberry chicken salad. (Wayne now regrets not having had a slice of one of Shari’s famous pies.)
We returned to Shari’s for breakfast, knowing that we had another long day ahead of us and wanting to eat well while we could. Our flight from Portland to O’Hare in Chicago, our least favourite airport, was uneventful, but troubles began as soon as we arrived. We saw that our return flight to Albany was already delayed by two hours due to weather in the Midwest: the regional jet for our route needed to come up from St. Louis but had not been able to leave. Then a fierce storm passed through Chicago, grounding everything. To keep abreast in an airport where there’s no free wi-fi (did we mention that O’Hare is our least favourite airport?), Wayne purchased twenty-four hours’ Internet access from Boingo. We both snacked on Kind bars and bottled water; Christina also had a bag of chips, while Wayne bought a Big Mac for added sustenance.
Our flight was further delayed as the evening wore on, and we feared that it would be cancelled. Many other flights were cancelled, or rescheduled. But finally our plane arrived from St. Louis, the weather cleared, and we left at last. By then, the flight had been delayed for three hours, and we had waited in Chicago for five. The final insult occurred as our plane was pulling back from the gate: we were blocked, our pilot announced, by one of the new, problem-plagued Boeing Dreamliners, which had developed a mechanical fault! Fortunately, it didn’t take long for the big Lufthansa 787 to be moved out of our way.
At last, we returned to Albany around 12:30 a.m., having lost an hour between the Central and Eastern zones, picked up our car from the Park and Fly, and were home by 2:00. Of course, there was very little traffic on the roads at that hour of the night, so we made very good time.
* Romeo and Tango weren’t left on their own or out in the cold. They had access to shelter, food and water were available (in addition to the wild kind), and the house and horses had a caretaker.
Images: Mount Hood in the distance; Orlando (er, Romeo) semi-snoozing; the morning sun on Mount Adams.