Five Days

I.

I pace the corners of my mind like an alchemist studying every ingredient to find the perfect recipe for transformation.

I read this quote:

Honey and wildfire are both the color gold. 

and it feels like a clue to something burning inside.

Victoria Erickson

II.

Perhaps a litmus test for the depth of a friendship should be whether or not they encourage you to nap when you want to.

Her and I, we go way back.

 

III.

The sea gulls fly past the window, calling shrilly like an alarm sounding action. I envy their freedom.

 

IV.

The sinking sun sharpens the branches of a cedar tree. They are sewing needles, poised to stitch a tapestry, as river-scented wind ripples across the fading sky. 

 

V.

I wake up in a house of light. A capsule of a moment, imagination run wild.

Adventure is calling me.

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A Rare Kind of Contentedness

There are some roads we travel on just once, and others we revisit again and again. It’s hard to know the significance of such a series of curves – gray concrete and yellow lines. But as I peer through my dashboard at the two golden orbs casting tunnels of light across the foggy I-5 Northbound in Oregon, I am reminded of a certain road I traveled on just once in Spain.

I was perched tall on the bus seat, bobbing gently as we chugged along the windy road. Sleepily, I pressed my nose against the cool window, staring out into a misty tide of fog. Each time we’d wind around a bend, the moon would shimmer, skipping alongside the dream catcher of forested hills to keep pace with us. I was returning to San Sebastian from a day trip to Bilbao.

There was something special that happened that day. I had met an unlikely friend: an old woman with pearlescent white hair.  When I got off the train at the top of the hill, I spotted her walking across the lawn with a limp, slowly dragging a checkered push cart behind her.

I walked to the railing that lined the park to take in the view. It was breathtaking. There were tall mountains and the charming city of Bilbao below, interspersed with patches of vibrant green farmland and a silver ribbon of river winding between them. The air felt cool, fresh and somehow, familiar.

I felt a presence approach behind me and turned to see a beautiful, smiling face studying me curiously. She must have been standing there for a few minutes watching me. We got to talking with the mediocre Spanish I learned in school and she told me that her parents were carpenters. They had once visited the old growth forests of Northern California and Oregon and told her about the unbelievably tall trees, she explained wide eyed with hands outstretched. Then she told me I should learn more languages and study a specialty outside of Journalism. I laughed, appreciating the motherly advice. I told her I thought it was a good idea. We chatted some more, using hand gestures and laughter to close the gap in our understanding of each other’s words. She invited me to join her for dinner the following night, and although I was touched, I had already purchased a bus ticket back to San Sebastian where I was staying with a friend.

We decided to take a picture together, stopping a passerby to snap the photo. After five, or what felt like ten kisses, and several hugs, we parted ways. As she shuffled down the path, just before dipping out of sight around the bend and down the hill, she turned once to blow me a kiss. Like waking from a dream, I stumbled out of the shell of my loneliness and felt my beating heart again. I blew her one back and turned to walk the opposite direction with tears in my eyes.

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I learned an important lesson that afternoon: that no matter how far from home, and no matter how alone I perceive myself to be, the world never stops inviting me to take its hand once more.

My short visit to Bilbao was wonderful, nourishing and provided the breakthrough I needed in the moment. The fog that crept in later that night no longer felt ominous, just as it doesn’t tonight on my drive home to Portland. The light of the moon and my headlights are enough.

In the comfort of not needing to see beyond just a few steps ahead, the ride can be the destination itself. And that creates a beautiful, rare kind of contentedness.

A Morning in Vernazza, Italy

Here I meet the Mediterranean Sea. I can walk all the way up to its powerful, rolling, green body and stare directly into its eyes. The salt spray clings to my hair and the humid wind draws sweat from my pores. Behind me stand rusted orange, yellow and pale pink buildings with dark green shutters sprawled open on every window. From behind them peaks the little dome of the cream-colored chapel halfway up the hill. A train passes along the sea cliff and disappears into the rock tunnel beneath stripes of grape vines stretching wildly in every direction.

The sea is a translucent green, defined by a line of navy blue as the water deepens farther out from the pier. It pushes its waves around the rocky cliffs with intensity; where they collide, big white sprays leap into the air and drop again, leaving dimples for a split-second before melting back into churning currents.

I’m staying in an Inn where a resident cat greets me each morning with a raspy meow. In 30 seconds from my door, I’m at the water’s edge, glistening under morning sun. I’m two months into my travels, and I’ve seen a lot of incredible places, but Vernazza feels like a dream. It’s so piercingly beautiful and idyllic, it’s hard to fathom it’s real, and that I’m somehow here.

Vernazza is one of five colorful cliff-side villages that make up the famed Cinque Terre in Tuscany, Northern Italy. Today I’ll hike to Monterrosso Al Mare, a village north of here, but first, I need an espresso.

Her hands move skillfully with ease as she flicks milk foam atop the fragrant brown liquid. I smile widely out of excitement, and she stares back indifferently, swatting the flies now gathering above a piping hot plate of focaccia vuota on the counter. A graying mass of wild curls frames her tan, sun-soaked cheeks and full lips. The brown mole above her left upper lip twitches momentarily as she slides the cappuccino my direction. “Grazie,” I say, blushing at the sound of my obvious American accent.

Next I head to the only grocer in town, which is stocked with local produce, fresh pesto in gallon glass jars, cured meats, olives, cheeses and the other necessary items like toilet paper and pasta. I buy a container of pesto, a hunk of cheese and some prosciutto to take with me for lunch on the trail.

The sun is already hot on my shoulders, so it’s time to get a move on! As I make my way toward the trail and begin climbing up through the hillside vineyards, I look back over my shoulder and fall even more in love with Vernazza.

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The view down the trail wasn’t too bad either!

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