It’s been a slow, languid, mainly solitary summer so far. After a spring that was filled with perhaps too much drama and busyness, my housemates left on an epic road trip to Canada, dog in tow. A townhouse with three adults and a large dog feels snug; suddenly the house felt large and quiet with just me in it. And since I was finished substitute teaching now that the kids were on summer break, all of my work was remote, meaning that I’ve been spending a lot of time in this house, left to my own devices. However, there have been a few getaways to break up the monotony of the melancholic heat of summer in the suburbs.
June 29-July 6: Vashon Island and Seattle, Washington
After being abroad for six years, I’d missed a lot of weddings! So when I got invited to a summer wedding, I knew I’d be attending. Didn’t matter that it was my childhood friend’s younger sister who I’d rarely seen in adulthood. I was going. And the fact that it was held out of town and I’d get to make a trip out of it? Win-win.
I got to Vashon Island in a bit of a convoluted way. My sister and brother-in-law were also attending the wedding, and were planning a trip of their own around it, a road trip to check out Oregon. So I hitched a ride up with them. Although we were all braindead by the end of the first day, a total of 13 hours of driving, going through the entire length of California, a place that holds countless memories for me, was exhilarating and nostalgic. It was also touched with some sadness, as I don’t recall Northern California looking that dry before, the effects of climate change making their mark.
The next day took us across the length of Oregon, into Washington state, and on a ferry over to the delightfully woodsy Vashon Island. We found our Airbnb, the Storybook Cabin, a whimsical A-frame wooden cabin originally constructed in the 1970’s when Vashon was inhabited by hippie artists and berry farmers. We explored the loving, artistic touches, beauty tucked into every nook and cranny of the house. Finally, we stepped out into the yard and breathed. No sounds but birdsong, the wind in the trees above, and the tinkle of wind chimes from the porch. For city folk like us, the calm was a true marvel.
These days, Vashon Island is a popular getaway spot for Seattleites, and we spent that evening and the next day taking in the quaint local sites. We had a superb dinner at The Hardware Store, a restaurant/art gallery that used to be an actual hardware store, and strolled down to the historic lighthouse. We walked a lovely trail in the woods by a stream that our host had recommended, took in the plots of lavender at the adorable Lavender Hill Farm, and tasted perry made with Asian pears at Nashi Orchards. Soon enough, it was time to get gussied up for the reason we’d come all the way up there: Natalie and Tom’s wedding.
The wedding was held on a bluff overlooking the ocean, the bride and groom married by a rabbi under a chuppah. Perhaps I’m getting sentimental in my old age, but I was misty-eyed throughout the entire ceremony, and smiling and filled with joy during the reception (helped no doubt by the wacky yet wonderful speech by the father of the bride). When I was young and jaded, I felt that most weddings were, frankly, overrated. But you know what isn’t overrated? Witnessing and celebrating the happiness of people you care about. That is pretty wonderful, and I definitely got into the swing of it that night.
The next day, I bid bon voyage to my sister and brother-in-law, and got picked up Jae, one of my dearest friends from my time in Japan, to spend the next few days enjoying Seattle. Jae is a born and raised Seattle local, and I was eager to see whatever she thought was cool about her city. She did not disappoint.
As does any big city, Seattle has its collection of attractions and sites; we did none of them. We walked around various cool neighborhoods, including touristy Pike Place Market, bohemian Ballard, and funky Capitol Hill. We watched the boats come in at the locks and strolled by the waterfront. We took the dog to a sprawling off-leash dog park and ate Korean food at home for a quiet Fourth of July. We went to not one but two fantastic speakeasies, Bathtub Gin and Co. and Needle and Thread, the latter of which is accessible via a bank vault and has no cocktail menu, since the expert bartenders custom-create a drink for every guest. We visited a used bookstore that is stuffed not only floor to ceiling with books, but at least five different cats. And we saw a lot of weird, quirky monuments: statues of Lenin and Jimi Hendrix, a stone troll under a bridge, the post-punk strangeness of Gas Works Park.
After a short flight home that felt long due to the fact that I was seated in the back of the plane and surrounded by families, I had a few days to unpack and repack before I was off again.
July 10-17: Lancaster, California
This week wasn’t exactly a vacation, as anyone who knows anything about Lancaster, California knows that it is has no draws for visitors. One of my closest friends, Jill, and her family were going out of town and needed someone to dogsit, and as I am everyone’s single friend with the flexible, remote job, I was the obvious choice.
Let me preface this by saying that I was not looking forward to this. Hanging out in Jill’s house and hanging out with Leia the adorable, diabetic, somewhat blind mutt sounded fine. But Lancaster has some negative stereotypes (Trumpers and meth users among them) and it is located in the high desert, which gets dangerously hot in the summer. I figured I might not leave the house for the week.
But I hadn’t factored a few things. First, I love the desert. I think that different people have different kinds of natural landscapes that just feel good and right to them on some deep level, and for me that’s the desert. Perhaps it’s from going to places like Palms Springs and Death Valley as a kid, or just from growing up in Southern California in the dry heat and watching tons of Westerns. Some people get juiced from rolling hills or woody mountains or a beach paradise; for me, it’s scrubby badlands and painted hills dotted with yucca and Joshua trees.
Second, I had Jill’s car to get me around. I haven’t had a car regularly at my disposal for almost a year now, and I didn’t realize what a life changer that would be. Suddenly, I had not only the means to go exploring the desert that called me, but I could also just do normal stuff like errands and take myself out to eat with ease. Instead of feeling isolated, I was free.
I fell into a routine. I still had to work, but when I could, I tried to get up earlier and go get a hike in. I read all the interpretive signs and excitedly spotted a jackrabbit at the Prime Desert Woodland Preserve. I goggled at the huge rock formations and gleefully hiked a bit of the Pacific Crest Trail at Vasquez Rocks. I marveled at the power of nature to replenish itself at Devil’s Punchbowl, a bowl-shaped depression in the rocks showing obvious damage from a fire in 2020, yet with clear signs of fresh, green regrowth at the bottom. This last sojourn turned out to be a bit of a struggle. The one-mile loop trail down and back up had quite a bit of elevation change and although it was morning, the temperature was already in the 90’s Fahrenheit and there was little shade due to the fire damage.
I also explored close to home. One thing that my friends enjoy about living in Lancaster is the local beer scene, and they had recommended three different breweries for me to try. I made it to all of them. While I loved the ambience at Transplant’s and Lucky Luke’s had pretty great food, my favorite was definitely Bravery Brewing. Every beer I sampled in their flight was on point and the backyard barbecue pizza was insanely good. The clientele too, was pretty mixed. Looking around, I saw a family gathering, friends playing a card game, a pair of older locals bellying up to the bar, and some bearded guys with trucker hats. Everyone was friendly, which extended to all the folks that I encountered in Lancaster, for that matter.
Mostly, I just had a lot of quiet time to myself. I journaled, caught up on Netflix, took naps, drank beer in the backyard watching the sun set. I sat and thought. Sometimes I just sat. It was relaxing, a retreat, a staycation, in the most unlikely of places.
Now I’m back in the valley, my thoughts quickly turning to the coming fall and the beginning of grad school. Life is going to get much busier and much more social. But before then, I’ve got one more summer escape coming my way: two weeks in Mexico in August.
Safe and Happy Travels,