(This is a cross-post from my travel blog at www.travelblog.org)
One of my favorite movies of all time is a notorious failure, the 1969 blockbuster bomb that almost bankrupted a studio, Paint Your Wagon. This blog has nothing to do with that. So why bring it up? There is a song in the film that says, “I was born under a wandering star,” and that’s the part I’m talking about. I have always felt that I was born under a wandering star, figuratively speaking, in that I have this sort of unstoppable wanderlust that forces me to move from time to time.
This April, Nathan and I went on a road trip. We had a weekend alone, basically, with my parents out traveling on the East Coast, my mother-in-law in Kenya, my wife working without a break, and my oldest son Javan away at camp. After Javan and I took that trip to Mexico in December, I figured I owed Nathan a father-son trip anyway.
We had two reasons to go, both of which were equally compelling to me, and I was happy to find out that the two events in central California were only about a 3-hour drive away from each other. The first was the opening of an Ethiopian Orthodox monastery in a place called San Miguel. We’d contributed to the fundraising and–after spending some time a couple years back visiting properties and working with agents to find land for a monastery in Washington–I was interested to see what the Church in California had been able to achieve. The second event was a Nyahbinghi Ises at the King’s Canyon Nyahbinghi Tabernacle in the mountains outside of Fresno. This was a place I’d been aware of for a few years, that some of my long-time bredren were fond of visiting, and I had hoped to travel to during the Ras Tafari holy days. I didn’t want to go during the major days (when we usually held gatherings in Seattle) of Earthlight (Haile Selassie I’s birthday on July 23rd) or Coronation Day (the crowning of Haile Selassie I and Empress Menen on November 2nd). But, this time it just so happened that a 3-light Ises for Grounation Day (the visit of Haile Selassie I to Jamaica in 1966) began on the same day as the opening of the monastery in San Miguel. The timing was perfect.
We started the trip by driving down the eastern side of Washington to stay with a friend who lives along the Columbia River gorge on the border with Oregon. Hunter and I met during the Lakota Sundance at the Rosebud Reservation last summer. We were the only two there from Washington (that I know of), and we resolved to meet up again. This was the first time we were able to make it happen.
That first day was a gorgeous drive through the mountains, beginning in sun, passing through some rain, then snow, then into sun again. In Yakima nation we picked up a hitch-hiker, sharing some food and conversation. I told him about the sweat lodge I’ve built at home, but haven’t used in ceremony yet. It turned out he was a Yakima native and, at the end of the ride, he took us to see his own sweat lodge. Experiences like that don’t just happen to everyone, but these are the kind of things I am thankful to be blessed with.
We stopped a couple of times (you have to stop a lot when traveling with small children–unless they’re sleeping–for pee breaks and the like), seeing some incredible views, and visiting a playground in Klickitat. Then we went to Hunter’s house. He’s got a great place in the woods, full of fun half-finished projects like the skate ramp and the music studio. It’s already a cozy woodland paradise, but it’s going to be something really special when he finishes some of these works-in-progress. One thing I noticed was his selection of home workout gear, not a full gym, but a few things scattered around that one could really do a lot with.
We stayed up late that night, telling stories with Hunter, eating homemade tacos, and watching some live jazz videos featuring Idris Muhammad. We were up at 6 the next morning to do a slamball workout with the sunrise, say goodbye to Hunter, and be on our way. It didn’t happen all that quickly, though. With a 6-year-old in tow, it took me until well after 8 to have him showered, dressed, fed, and ready for the road.
That second day was a fascinating tour of eastern Oregon. The weather was not as nice and the sights were not as interesting as the previous day’s, but we enjoyed watching the landscape change as we traveled further south into territory unknown to us both. At one point, we passed through an area where wispy, dry snow came at us sideways, blowing around everywhere, but failing to stick to the ground. We stopped for gas and found the air outside was warm enough for shorts and t-shirts, while the gray clouds above continued to drop a dusting of white powder that melted well before it hit the ground. There was a shaved ice truck there and we actually sat and ate snow cones in the snow! Not the kind of thing you do every day.
From there, we toured through the burned forests of northern CA. You can read about the fires and watch the coverage on the news, but nothing prepares you for the sight of thousands (millions?) of acres of burned forest as far as the eye can see, for miles upon miles stretching along each side of the highway. It is absolutely shocking how much of southern Oregon and northern California showed signs of recent wildfire activity. Those fires were huge!
We descended out of the wilderness of northeastern Cali into a little town called Weed. I’d driven past the place before, but never seen the town, only stopping long enough for a photo op in front of the road sign (you know, “hehehe, ‘weed’, hahahaha”). This time I did that too. It was 4/20 after all, the international herb smokers’ holiday, and I was not smoking any herb. So, I thought that was worth a humble brag on Instagram. Then we went into the town to stop for lunch. Nathan was tired of driving and we both needed to stretch our legs.
My son, who is just learning to read, pointed out all the many “weed” puns appearing alongside the images of marijuana leaves, found on signs and souvenirs around the town. We poked our head into one of these souvenir shops and learned that we were actually right on time for the town’s annual 4/20 Festival. A couple blocks’ walk down from where we parked, we found the festival. A section of the main street was closed for vendors and a bandstand to celebrate the day. There was good food, bad music, and a lot of red-eyed stoned Weedonians (or is it Weedsters, Weedishman, Weedese?).
We met a couple of men from Laos and had nice conversations with them. I was not aware that this area had such a large Laotian community, but apparently they do, and they have several restaurants in Weed. Laos is one of my favorite places in the world and I always like to chat with people from there about their beautiful jungle nation, great food, warm and hospitable ancient culture, and terribly ineffective government. Nobody’s ever gotten upset with me for it. One of our new friends told me a story about the Buddhist commandments, starting with one commandment and expanding into five, then ten, or even hundreds. I told him I’d actually met monks in Laos who followed as many as 272 commandments, and we compared it to the lessons I am teaching in Sunday school about the 10 commandments given to Moses. In both instances, there is one central commandment of Love or Compassion, expanded into a conveniently-remembered set of core tenets that can easily be counted on the fingers of one or two hands, and further into hundreds of minor rules that require deeper study or practice.
After eating a late lunch of Khao Nyao, Som Tum, and Larb (Laotian food) and taking half of it to-go, we hit the road again and continued down through central CA until we couldn’t handle it anymore and had to stop at a hotel for the night. It was kind of funny how we suddenly both had the urge to stop and sleep, pulling off the side of the freeway near a place called Dunnigan. I opened my Google Maps to look for a cheap motel nearby. There was one about 3 miles behind us but when I called them on the phone they quoted rates much higher than what I saw online. So we carried on another 20 miles to Woodland and stayed the night at a roadside motel there.
Nathan’s photos from the road…