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Town of Banff.

Northwest postcard

Olympic Peninsula, Montana, Whidbey Island, Banff, Seattle, Ashland

by Jonathan Young, October 1997

Dear Fellow Travelers,

Turning west before Seattle and driving up the Olympic Peninsula for the first time ever was a sumptuous move. It is all peaks and mist and mostly heavy evergreens with just a few touches of Fall color here and there. Port Townsend was a big bustling city when Seattle was still just a village. The old port never grew much and is a small city by today's standards and feels a bit like an island in time. The red brick and stone buildings near the docks date from the 1880s. Most of the saloons and all of the brothels have now become craft stores, art galleries, cafes, and the like. Bumper stickers say *We're all here because we're not all there* -- and the local population really is pleasantly eccentric. This is a fine place to live for those not fond of deal ing with the pace of big city life.

The sponsoring group in nearby Sequim (pronounced as one syllable -- *skwim*) put me up at a member's lovely house. She, Helen Hinchey, is in her 80s and is a model of vitality -- taking long vigorous walks every day and staying involved with several loca l clubs. She says the way to good health is to eat healthy food -- avoid red meat -- and stay away from doctors. Says she very seldom will go to a physician although she thinks chiropractors are ok.

Whidbey Island Ferry

Leaving the Olympic peninsula involves a crossing over to Whidbey Island. The old ferry was quite a jewel. Learned that the four ferries that handle this run originally crossed North San Francisco Bay. I remember being on one of these same ferries in the fifties before bridges eliminated the last of the Bay Area runs. They have now been in service for 70 years and, thanks to careful overhauls, are destined to be going strong for decades to come.

Jonathan on the rocks

In Seattle, saw an unusual exhibit of Philosopher's Rocks from China. It was at the Asian Art Museum that sits up on a hill overlooking the Emerald City. The stones were all the rage among the elite in China in the first decades of this century. They are natural formations that look like abstract sculpture with many niches and openings. Learned men would reflect on the patterns as a sort of intellectual meditation. I found my own attention wandering into their maze-like patterns giving me a small taste of what travel generally provides -- a time of open-mindedness that often leads to creative leaps.

Up in Canada, the schedule pressed quickly into the verdant interior. A friend showed me some secret fern canyons with lacy waterfalls in the Okanagan area. There seem to be lakes and creeks and rivers everywhere. Such sights are rhapsodic for a visitor from the arid southlands.

Climbing the passes to Banff this year was a rush of craggy dazzle as usual. The whole center of town is like a series of massive alpine lodges. This time I got a chance to visit the natural treasure that launched Banff as a destination -- Cave and Basin Hot Springs. In 1883 some railroad workers found the curious underground pool that became the centerpiece of Canada's first national park. Entering the warm, cavern is like a walk into the primal heart of the planet. It is a fine place to meditate on how the disparate energies spring forth from nature to enter into us and animate our lives.

Ostrich ferns, Okanagan

The best part of driving through Alberta and Montana was revisiting the massive wonderment of the Rockies. A friend in Kalispell took me through the Glacier National Park. It is all rivers and canyons and rockface and snowy peaks. A rushing waterfall ami dst jagged slate won my little heart for life. One tight gorge bursting with frigid white water seemed to epitimize how the life force just keeps on pulsing forth. We drove up to Logan Pass and then hiked up toward Going-to-the-Sun Mountain amidst patches of snow. The peak is near a glacier and a long valley stretches out below. Mountain goats climbed along a nearby ridge. The panorama will certainly stay in ready memory for awhile.

What a thing it is to leave the palms of home and see all this freshness. I am so grateful for the generous friends who took time to show me the marvels. There is something about the resplendence of mountain rivers that takes me into a better part of myse lf. I recently decided that a good mental map of all of everything would be to have two categories -- magic and non-magic. I want to have sufficient amounts of each. The non-magic is all the important practical stuff that needs to get done. Magic includes art, beauty, love, seafood, good jokes and, most certainly, Glacier National Park.

Cruising westward through the rugged Idaho panhandle, I checked out numerous old mines with collapsing buildings and old equipment all ajumble. As a boy, my father spent many summers with his father exploring mining operations that are now abandoned but once promised glory and riches. Some made fortunes here, but not my grandfather, who had something of a gift for bad investments. He did better in politics, serving in the State Legislature in Boise. The mining towns, such as Warren, are collections of fine old buildings nestled in narrow valleys. Now these centers of ambition are tourist attractions -- noted for huckleberry pie. Actually, they put the illustrious local berry into just about everything. The oddest example is huckleberry soap -- but, hey, the tourists buy it.

Explored Spokane looking for the home of poet Vachel Lindsay. Found what was his townhouse and the downtown hotel lobby where he held forth on a regular basis. There is a plaque on the wall but the once-elegant old hotel is closed for renovations. A friend and I talked our way in to take a picture. Lindsay was enormously popular early in the century and a great favorite of my parents. My father would often quote long section of Lindsay's epic poem about the founder of the Salvation Army, *General William Booth Enters into Heaven*.

Princess Louise model ship, maritime museum

The Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria had an extraordinary display on the history of Whaling. It showed the high drama of early whaling by the natives and the early ships. It also showed the grim results of excess and greed. There was also a hall dealing with all manner of maritime history in the North Pacific. One display dealing with the inter-island ferries had a detailed model of the Princess Louise with all her classic lines. Being on that ship is my earliest memory. I was two years old when the family took that trip up the coast to Alaska. My father carried by up against his chest and I remember the covered decks. A few years ago, I visited the ship down in San Pedro harbor where it was a floating restaurant. It seemed much smaller. Since then, it has gone to the ocean bottom.

Out on Salt Spring Island to visit dear friends Honor and Patricia, I imposed on the man of the house, George, who is the island blacksmith. He took on the mangled brush guard on my wee pseudo-jeep and got a friend at the body shop to help him straighten it. It was mostly done as an exchange of favors in a way that villages handled things 100 years ago. I was not only grateful but touched by the deep personal connections on this idyllic isle.

Ashland Shakespeare Festival

Saw some great theater along the way. In Ashland, *The Fire Circle* artfully showed the need to take responsibility during times of oppression as it followed a cultured family from Nazi Germany to fascist Argentina during Peron's rule. There was an epic staging of *The Descent of Inanna* in Eugene that followed the ancient Sumerian myth through the underworld of the imagination. At the Fringe Festival in Vancouver, BC, *The Master and Margarita* told a Russian tale of the devil with bounding magic realism and social satire. In Calgary, *The Collected Works of Billy the Kid* showed that Michael Ondaatje's dream-like collage approach is effective with a theme far from his much-noted *The English Patient*. Walking out of that theater past the Victorian era red stone city hall and new town plaza fountain in the cold night air I found myself gliding along a smooth current of elation.

Had a similar moment in Portland after seeing a daring staging of Euripides' *The Bacchae.* The ancient drama about honoring Dionysus had touches of modern dress mixed with ritual dance moves from India. Afterwards, I sauntered across a mid-town leafy square with a classical statue of a goddess in flowing robes. There was the requisite Oregon mist adding a glowing effect to the many tiny lights on the theater marquee. I feel renewed after seeing good drama and, in that restored state of coalescence, I am one with the world -- and notice its beauty as if for the first time.

As before, I can see that these frequent expeditions provide time to reflect on the passing wonders and ponder the lessons of this part of my inner journey. There are, to be sure, lonely moments on the road -- but many more surprising encounters with warm-hearted people who seem delighted that I have come their way.

The tours give me a chance to work on my presentations and work out the diplomacy of dealing with varying groups. The Simon Fraser University screenwriting program is all hip young filmmakers. The crowd at the Whyte Museum in Banff is mostly artists and poets who hide away in the mountains. The gatherings at the various Jung Societies pick up on every symbol, and so forth. It is a great privilege to be invited to speak in all these diverse places.

I come home to a cute house in a pretty town filled with many friends. The cat recognizes me but pouts for a few days before all is forgiven. The traveler has returned to his own little Ithaca -- until the call to other places comes again.


Glacier National Park