Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Caffeine, Craters & Connections

In Ashland we stop at a coffee shop that feels like the Barlow — all bright wood, clean lines, burnished metal and latte foam leaves. In Medford we find a Trader Joe's, a mecca of familiar and affordable snacks; we climb onto the van rooftop in the parking lot, eating our eggplant wraps and salad and smiling at a few passersby.

A man named Ken pumps our gas and grins at us through the window. "Now you've met your first Oregon weirdo," he says.

On a whim, we drive East to Crater Lake, winding into the trees until patches of snow appear. It's getting late, so we pull off at a campground, following the gravel road until it curves past a landslide and we turn around awkwardly and park in a little wooded turn out that looks camped-in We brush mosquitoes off our arms and try to drink frothy champagne that's warm and car-shaken. Instead we spill it on the floor and give up on pretending it tastes celebratory.

Crater Lake stretches wide and blue, the bluest blue. Older couples chat about their luxury campers, children hurl snowballs at their parents, and I pet every dog in sight. Kelsey and I pick wildflowers and huff up hill to stare at the expansive green-blue view. I sprinkle a handful of my grandpa's ashes into the wind, thinking of him as we pass a cluster of big bikes in the parking lot.

In Eugene we meet Arnita, a friend of a friend who remembers me from long ago. We meet her two dogs, her cockatiel, her enormous tortoises, brothers who have started fighting after 16 years of peace. We talk to her about her travels, about the 22 National Parks she's visit with her daughter, an acrobat and violinist that's spent time living in Norway and Germany and joined a circus in England for a while. We eat CSA vegetables and talk to her about photography, about her incredible book collection, about Sonoma County over beers and ice cream.

After saying our goodbyes, Kelsey and I explore Eugene on foot — thrifting forgotten kitchenware, thumbing through old postcards, tasting local beer and chatting with delightfully strange people. We acquire free stickers, free coasters, and a few stories, and head North to Portland.

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