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Written by Contributor Susan Troccolo

What’s better than a road trip with a good buddy? Some people may have thought: boyfriend. Some of you thought, no way, I like to travel with my dog. But girlfriend, boyfriend, husband, dog, or your current stud muffin…… a good road trip friend is a great friend indeed.   Just think what you find out about this—ahem—person: the music she likes on the road, favorite snack foods, if he has a wandering spirit or if he goes straight to the destination. Can he read a map? Does she know the value of a cup of bad coffee and funky cookies at the rest stops? Can he handle a gas pump and get those yucky yellow squishers off the windshield? Can she harmonize to Jackson Browne’s Runnin’ on Empty? (Okay. That’s for extra points.) What have I forgotten? Tons, I’m sure.
La Conner Rainbow Bridge and boat2_small  Last fall, my friend Susan and I went for a week to La Conner, Washington, a trip  of about 250 miles from Portland, where we both live. I wish I could say it was  purely for fun, but the fact was we had so much fun that next time we won’t need  an excuse. No, Susan and I went to look in on my aunt who had suffered life- shattering losses within two years’ time: the deaths of her husband and her daughter, Jenny. It is such unimaginable loss that she has needed lots of support. And in that magical way these things work, I needed some support of my own. In stepped Susan to fill a pretty big void. I had not even thought someone would be ready and able to make such a trip with me, but Susan was. As a road trip buddy, she is an A+.

Have you noticed as we grow older how much we rely on our friends? Frankly, I don’t know what I would do without my friends. I am grateful for them every single day. It’s possible that we don’t even know yet how the depth and kindness of our friends help make life worth living, but as the years go by, I believe it will become clearer and clearer.

La Conner is a charming small town that has retained all itsView of Strait of Juan de Fuca_small charming small-townness. You’ll see the famous Rainbow Bridge that connects La Conner to Fidalgo Island, which includes the city of Anacortes, jumping off point for ferries going to Vancouver, Victoria, and parts of the San Juan Islands. The Swinomish reservation is there and the center of town is a historic district, listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  The San Juan Islands contain some of the most magnificent scenery in our country. They make up an archipelago in the northwest corner of the contiguous United States between the US mainland and Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. Four islands are accessible by passenger ferry operated by the Washington State Ferries system.

Butterfly lifecycle sign close up_smallApril and May are great times to visit La Conner and, actually, the entire Skagit Valley, because the annual tulip festival is in all its colorful glory. My aunt describes the show as “rainbows on the ground.” Short of hopping on an international flight to Keukenhof Gardens in Holland, you can’t find a more exquisite display of acres and acres of tulips. Just be sure to book your accommodation early—the sooner the better. And, for you gardeners, you may enjoy the small but lovely Butterfly Garden in the historic part of La Conner. I loved seeing the LifeCycle of the Butterfly at the entrance.

As we left La Conner, we drove slowly through the Skagit Valley,LaConnerSweetShop_small stopping to sample farmers’ markets and flower stands all along the road. Mount Rainier was glorious in the sunshine. Susan bought spot shrimp at a price she can never find in Portland. And then we yakked all the way home.

What a great trip, full of the best life has to offer. Love and service to others, beauty, good food, and lots of laughter. What do you look for in a road trip companion? If you say someone who stops for immodest ice-cream cones, I’ll completely understand.sign-immodest ice-cream cones_small

Cross-posted at Life.Change.Compost.

 

IMG_1660  All the islands of Hawaii hold places of deep spirit and meaning. Today I’m paying my respects to three  on the Big Island, each with its own strong sense of mana, spiritual energy. First, the Place of Refuge,   Pu’uhonua o Honaunau, a 180-acre National Historical Park on the southern Kona coast. For   centuries this complex of stone walls, thatch-roofed shelters, and ponds at the edge of the ocean was a   sacred heiau/temple, home of royalty, and a place of safety—at least, for those who could get here.

Standing next to a fearsomely carved figure, gazing at the surf, I’m imagining the relief I’d feel if I had managed to elude capture, get to this shore, and crawl up the rocks to sanctuary. If I’d broken a sacred law, a kapu —and there were a lot of them, from standing on a chief’s shadow to fishing at the wrong time—I would likely be killed, unless I got to this refuge. Then I could be absolved by the priests and return home safely. Different times, different customs. Today the only ones seeking refuge are tourists looking for shade under the palm trees.

As I touch the massive stone wall, feel the gaze of the grim-faced wooden guardians, and Charlie Grace, with pig bone fish hookplace a hand in a carved stone bowl, I can sense those spirits of the past. Local craftsmen bring part of that past into the present day with cultural demonstrations—like Charlie Grace, a skilled carver of canoes and implements, who’s showing us how a fish hook was made from pig bone, and the way a stone-and-shell drill was used. He “talks story,” too, in traditional Hawaiian style, telling of the ancestors, reverence for the land, and the great canoe that is our planet.

Another sacred place with a different tradition, up the DSC07487 Mauna Loa mountain slope on Painted Church Road, is a small, white, steepled church.  St. Benedict’s Painted Church, built in 1899, is an active local parish, but the main reason tourists stop by is to see the unusual interior,St Benedict's Painted Church every inch of it covered with colorful designs. Father John Velghe, who came from Belgium, had no artistic training, but he used art to teach his faith to people who couldn’t read. Using house paint, he painted illustrations DSC07481directly on the church’s wooden walls and ceiling. Some have faded over time, but the Biblical scenes, palm trees, moral lessons, and decorative stripes are all here, the results of one man’s vision.

Further along Painted Church Road, I find and enter the third and most recent sacred site,  Paleaku Gardens Peace Sanctuary. It’s  hard to describe just how special this serene, meditative, 7-acre garden really is.IMG_1686 It started 44 years ago, with Barbara DeFranco’s goal of Jade vinecreating a spiritual center featuring world faiths and plants. With a lot of hard work and help from people who shared her appreciation of diversity, she reached that goal, although, she says, it’s always a work in progress.  Wandering around the mountainside garden, admiring the views, I come to one shrine after another on the grassy slopes and set amongst trees and flowers of Hawaii and other parts of the world. Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Native American and Native Hawaiian are here, along with Tibetan sand mandalas, a labyrinth, and even a 100-foot-diameter Galaxy Garden that shows the Milky Way in flowers. And those are only a few of the marvels of Paleaku.  The sanctuary is not generally well-known to tourists and not to be missed. It’s open Tuesday-Saturday, 10 am-4 pm.Buddhist stupa

 

 

IMG_1559 On a long, wide, sandy beach north of Todos Santos, on the west coast of  Baja, Mexico, sea turtles are hatching by the hundreds. Almost every  evening in the winter months, another bunch crawls over the sand  toward the vast Pacific, as turtles have done for more centuries than you  can imagine. These days it’s a little different. They need human help, and  they’re getting it from a unique conservation organization. Just past  sunset, here at Turtle Camp on Las Playitas, we get to watch it happen.

For 55 days the turtles have been in an incubation greenhouse, Turtle Camp, Bajacurled in  eggs in warm sand. Those that hatched today are now swarming and wiggling in blue plastic bins, some on IMG_1618their backs waving tiny flippers, others climbing over each other. Where are we? What happened to that cozy, quiet, soft place? What is this booming sound, calling me into thunder and foam and danger? It’s irresistible! Let’s go! Or so I imagine their reactions to be.

IMG_1621 Volunteers who’ve been watching over the eggs kneel by the bins and explain  to visitors that this is the only place in the world where turtle eggs are  collected from their nests and kept safe in a greenhouse until they hatch.  When they stagger out, they’re held in the bins until sunset and then released  onto the beach to find their way into the waves. These little guys and gals are  incredibly vulnerable, and darkness shields them from eager predators like  the gulls now circling above us. Even so, most will become snacks for birds  and sharks or be trapped in nets and drown.

Some evenings as many as 100 turtles are released. Tonight there are about 25, all of them Olive Ridleys. IMG_1619Leatherbacks, the largest sea turtles, hatch here too. They’re found in every ocean and are the most endangered, 90% gone. Amazing fact: when these Olive Ridleys, those who survive, reach sexual maturity ten years after wandering the world, the females with eggs will return to this exact beach to nest. Even more amazing: Leatherbacks come back sixteen years later. I’m hoping enough of them live that long.

The mothers drop the eggs, cover them up, and waddle back into the ocean, and the eggs wait, prey to the dangers of ATVs, construction, and any creature interested in dining on turtle eggs—lizards, dogs, birds, humans. The temperature has to be just right, too. So the volunteers and biologists at Todos Tortugueros give them a hand, collecting the eggs and sheltering them.

Now it’s past sunset and the gulls have wheeled away, thwarted this time. Those of us who’ve come to watch stand  behind the sharp slope that falls to the surf, where waves rise high, roll, and crash. Once the 3-inch-long turtles are on the slope, they scramble down, pulling themselves forward until they reach the water and are pulled out by the next wave. All except one, who seems confused. He, or maybe she, keeps going the wrong way, or stops as if to get his bearings. He’ll get there, the biologist says. But he doesn’t, and who could resist giving him a boost? Someone finally lifts him and puts him close enough to catch the wave. And off he goes, into a wild new world that is home.  IMG_1589

Schmidt Winery Lounging on the terrace of Schmidt Family Vineyards, in southern Oregon’s Applegate Valley, I’m sipping a light Sauvignon blanc and wondering why I haven’t been here long before now. The wine is delightful, the landscape idyllic, the winemakers friendly and hospitable. The Schmidts’ winery is only one of dozens in the valleys of southern Oregon: the Rogue, Applegate, Umpqua and Illinois, which have so many microclimates they can grow both warm and cool climate grape varieties. Pinot noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay are the main wines produced. I’m feeling lucky to be here on a sunny afternoon, under a blue sky, gazing at acres of vineyards stretching over the hills while I sample a few vintages.

Judy and Cal Schmidt, who bought an old ranch 13 years ago, Cal Schmidthave been incredibly busy, not only growing grapes and making wines, but putting in flower and herb Schmidtgardens, a picturesque pond, tree-shaded lawns, and a terrace where visitors can enjoy pizzas and antipasti along with their wine tastings. Their place is often used for weddings and concerts.

Winery-hopping is easy with Wine Hopper Tours—I can sip IMG_7681with no concern about driving and soak up the beautiful scenery, gliding by streams, vineyards, and forested hills in a plush Mercedes van. Plus I get the benefit of loads of information from Scott, the driver, about the local wineries, climate, topography, and soils. Also snacks and a nice lunch. This is touring in style.

IMG_7668The first official winery in southern Oregon opened in 1873, when settler Peter Britt opened Valley View Winery. The wine industry limped along (and closed completely during Prohibition) until 1968, when an experimental vineyard revealed the not-so-big surprise that this really was a great place for growing wine grapes. My tour includes a stop at Valley View, so of course I lift a glass and toast Mr. Britt with a sip of nicely dry Merlot.IMG_7679 Troon is another historic winery in Applegate Valley and offers weekend entertainment and a bistro menu of local foods, as well as tastings of their signature Zinfandels and blends. At Serra winery, a lavender-lined driveway leads up a hillside to a terrace overlooking broad valley and mountain views. This is a peaceful spot for IMG_7644enjoying Serra’s pleasant patio wine, “Serendipity,” a blend of Gewurztraminer and Pinot blanc. And I’m quite ready for lunch, which Scott serves with a flourish.

Is it the wine I’ve been imbibing or the water’s sparkle that sends me splashing into the cool, clear stream? It feels great on bare feet. This is at Red Lily winery, a pretty spot on a hill above a IMG_7656tributary of the Applegate River. It has an expanse of lawn and a sandy beach with picnic tables set up for visitors. In the snazzy tasting room, I can’t pass up a sample of their earthy Tempranillo.

That’s enough wine for one day, but there’s no IMG_7631doubt I’ll be back, maybe for “Fall Uncorked,” when most Applegate Valley wineries hold a big November celebration of the grape harvest. Or—a romantic notion—take Wine Hopper’s summertime Twilight Wine Float on the Rogue River.

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IMG_7475  She doesn’t look   all that scary, does she, with that calm, resigned face? But she’s a grizzly bear, and I’m standing only three feet away.  It doesn’t seem right to be this close to a big, furry creature with sharp claws and teeth. Unnatural. Primal instinct screams run.  I linger, though, safe on my side of the fence, and tell her I’m sorry she can’t live in the wild where she belongs. Like many of the other animals and birds at Wildlife Images in southern Oregon, she’s not equipped to survive on her own.  This is a place for injured or orphaned creatures to be cared for by experts until they can be released or, if that’s not possible, kept in surroundings that mimic their natural homes.

Wildlife Images, which opened in the 1970s and became a non-profit in 1981, has a mission: Educate, Involve, and Inspire.  The director, staff and more than 80 well-trained volunteers run education programs as well as care for injured or disabled animals and birds–about 1000 a year. Some were orphaned or caught in traps. The mountain lion was a “pet” whose tendons were cut so he couldn’t extend his claws, which means he’s not able to capture food or defend himself. If they’re too disabled to be released after rehabilitation, they stay on as permanent residents. That’s why visitors like me get to see them up close. Wildlife Images is open to visitors 362 days a year for guided tours (you can’t wander around on your own).

Everybody has a name. Niles and Daphne are sandhill cranes, Miss Jefferson is a 9-pound bald eagle, Cocoro is a Eurasian eagle owl, Jack and Jill are falcons. Carson is a beautiful gray fox and IMG_7459Defiance a proud American bald eagle. There are wolves, bobcats and several bears. At each stop along the path, I learn something new.  Who’s the fastest creature in the world? The peregrine falcon—it can dive at 242 miles per hour. How strong is the golden eagle? Its talons have 750 pounds of pressure and can kill a wolf. What’s the only canine that climbs trees? The gray fox. What does it cost to keep a bald eagle? $200 a month: 4,000 pounds of dog food, fresh rats, vaccinations, permits and more. 

IMG_7485 The 24-acre rehab center/sanctuary by the Rogue River, 12 miles west of Grants Pass, was founded by David Siddon in the 1970s and opened as a nonprofit in 1981.  It’s now run by the founder’s son Dave, who says he’s committed to continuing his dad’s dream of rescuing wildlife and educating people IMG_7452about it.  Wildlife Images is supported by admission fees, grants, fundraisers and donations. It has an interpretive center, a pavilion for public events, a Birds of Prey building, and a gift shop.

I’m interested in all of it, but the grizzly bear has me enthralled. Her name is Yak and she came from Alaska. As we watch each other I think of  bear power in story and symbol, from Ursa Major, the Big Dipper, to cave bears and shamans. After a few silent minutes she hauls herself up and shambles off, and I can see that Yak, even now, carries the memory of that power. 

 

IMG_7721 I generally don’t care to eat mold, but Rogue River Blue has changed my attitude. The delicate veins of blue molds running through this blue cheese add a tang to the firm, buttery, incredibly flavorful cheese, a perfect contrast, and I’m happy to taste it any time I get the chance. Today it’s in the maker’s facility, Rogue Creamery, in Central Point. IMG_7722This small southern Oregon town, just west of the I-5 freeway–four miles from Medford, 218 miles south of Portland–has attracted artisans who craft top-quality, handmade products. Cheese is one of them, and I’m watching the experts at work through large windows at Rogue Creamery. Turning rich, local milk into award-winning, internationally acclaimed cheese takes care and time, up to five years, manager Craig Nelson says. Here’s how the website describes part of the process: “After draining in their hoops, wheels are dry salted, pierced, and dipped in wax before the bulk of their aging to prevent mold growth on rind. At the end of their maturation, wax is removed and the wheels are wrapped in foil.” The blue cheese is aged for at least 90 days.

Rogue Creamery has been in business for 80 years and crafts several other cheeses, the best being cheddar and their signature blue. I’m also trying something different: classic hand-milled cheddar combined with Rogue Ales’ Chocolate Stout. The beer is melded with the curd, then hand-dipped and pressed into blocks for aging. Along with the cheddar, I get hints of chocolate and coffee from the stout, a nice blend. Another produced here is TouVelle, which the makers call a workhorse in the kitchen because it’s semi-hard, mild yet flavorful, and melts evenly. In the gift shop I, along with a lot of other visitors, browse among the locally produced jams, sauces, pastas and breads and pick up a nifty chiller bag that will keep cheese purchases cool.

Ledger David Winery  Next door is Ledger David Winery. In what was once a 1950s garage and is now a small, elegant, light-filled tasting room, I can taste fine wines paired with, what else, Rogue Creamery cheeses. Owners David Traul and Lena Varner produce several varietals, including Chenin Blanc, malvasia Bianca, Chardonnay, Sangiovese, and Tempranillo. My favorite is their unique, award-winning red blend labeled Orion’s Nebula. It’s more than 50% Cabernet Franc and has an intriguing mixture of flavors: cherry, vanilla, cinnamon, and more. Ledger David wines come from grapes grown in their 15-acre vineyard in nearby Talent.

The next shop in the developing Artisans Corridor is Lillie Belle Farms, and that means Chocolate with a capital C.  Jeff Shepherd began selling IMG_7749truffles at local farmer’s markets ten years ago, naming them after his wife, Belle, and daughter, Lillie. Everything was (and is) handmade with high-quality ingredients, some from his own organic farm. The business grew, word spread, and today Lillie Belle Farms has a staff of twelve and sells more than 20,000 pounds of chocolate products a year, worldwide. In 2009, Jeff was chosen by Dessert Professional magazine as one of the top ten chocolatiers in the U.S.

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One of the best things about the place is its festive atmosphere. It’s fun to walk in the door, sniff mouth-watering aromas, and survey the bon-bons, ganaches, caramels, truffles and chocolate bars. Glass cases hold spicy cayenne caramels, blue cheese truffles, chocolate-covered bacon, and chocolate fortune cookies. Anejo candies contain tequila, lime and salt. It’s mighty hard to choose from these offbeat delights. One bar’s name is also a playful warning: “Do Not Eat This Chocolate,” and one taste tells you why. The chilies in this one are some of the world’s hottest peppers. It’s hot! “I warned you,” Jeff says with a grin.

Artisans Corridor is a great southern Oregon stop off the freeway now, and with changes and additions underway, it’s only going to get even better.

IMG_7708  I’ve reviewed hundreds of bed-and-breakfast inns for guidebooks, and by now it takes me maybe two minutes to tell if I’ve found a good one. As I walk in the door of The White House Bed and Breakfast, in Medford, Oregon, I know immediately it rates high on the list. kathy rulonKathy Rulon greets weary travelers with a smile, shows us to our spacious upstairs room, explains how things work, and points out a box of cards with breakfast menu choices (nice idea!). Then she leaves us alone in our haven of quiet, saying “I’ll be in the kitchen or garden if you need me.” Kathy is a former flight attendant, and she knows how to take care of people without any annoying hovering. Her relaxed, friendly style makes guests feel immediately at home, and this, plus nice accommodations with thoughtful touches, are to me the ingredients of a perfect bed-and-breakfast inn.  Reasonable rates help, too.

The White House B&B is a two-story, columned home on a residential hillside lane in East Medford. It’s white, of course, and has a veranda complete with inviting rocker. Our room is lounge area Whiite house suite actually a suite stretching across the   house front to back, with windows  overlooking the tree-shaded street and large garden.  The queen-sized bed is comfortable and the light-filled bathroom spotless. And there’s plenty of space to put our stuff, which inevitably gets scattered around. Down the hall is another bedroom that sleeps two, but it’s used only if a group is traveling together, so we have the entire floor to ourselves.

Asked for a dinner recommendation, our hostess is happy to oblige. We choose Porters, a century-old train station restored as a patio, porterspopular restaurant.  It has both  historic charm and an excellent menu of American classic dishes, emphasizing local foods: wild mushrooms, herbs, cheeses, Northwest seafood and wines, Oregon poultry and lamb. We dine at an outdoor patio table, with train tracks on the other side of the vine-covered fence, and couldn’t be more content.

In the morning, Kathie has breakfast on the table at the time requested. We have the granola/fruit/yogurt parfait and a IMG_7620spinach-mushroom omelet, only part of a small feast that includes whole cooked pears, fresh coffee cake and preserves, juice, coffee and teas. It’s all delicious. (Kathy’s secret to a perfect  non-rubbery omelet: cook it more slowly than you think you should.) Her most requested dish is the Dutch Baby, a baked pancake cooked at high heat in a heavy cast iron pan so it crawls up the sides. Kathy fills it with blueberries and gives it a sprinkle of powdered sugar. IMG_7705

Search as I might, I can’t find a thing to complain about, so I’ll end with the recipe that made Kathy a finalist in a Best Breakfast contest by BedandBreakfast.com. It’s easy to prepare if you roast the sweet potatoes and yams the night before, which I did.  Also, I skipped the eggs and it was uniquely tasty anyway, a good, hearty brunch dish.

Sweet Potato Hash on Beet Greens with Bacon Brittle (serves 4)

2 sweet potatoes

2 yams

1 onion

4 scallions

1 bunch beet greens

4 strips bacon

2 tablespoons maple syrup

2 tablespoons brown sugar

8 eggs

Roast sweet potatoes and yams.  Cool, peel, and cube.

Sliver onion and sauté with potatoes and yam in olive oil.

Cut stems from beet greens; sauté greens lightly in olive oil.

Fry bacon, drain off most of fat, and add syrup and brown sugar. Cook on low heat for 5 minutes. (Pinch of cayenne pepper here is optional.) Spread onto baking sheet to cool; then break into pieces.

Poach eggs.

Lay a bed of  the beet greens on each plate. Place a spoonful of potato/yam/scallion mixture on top. Sprinkle with bacon/sugar brittle and top with 2 poached eggs. Garnish with a scallion.