Our mission, if you choose to accept it

Perhaps I should explain.

We had to go to Canada because our car, who is from Vancouver, really wanted to go home for a couple of days. I think she has a sweetheart in the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Then we went to Seattle where we stayed with a great family. They were funny and interesting and we ate gourmet burgers and chatted and laughed.

Caitlin, the ‘mom’ (which means mum), showed us the new house they were building. It is bright yellow and is on a hill. To build your own house is the thing.

The kids told us about life in Seattle and let us play their video games, which were stupendously advanced and satisfyingly violent.

Mon watched ‘football’ (which means a kind of turn-based rugby played in space suits) with the dad, who is called Paul and who has tenaciously protected his Irish accent over nearly 30 years in the States.

Paul is in the sewer business and he implored Mon to throw away his carpentry tools and “get in the underground game. The underground game is the ONLY game. No one can see what you’re doing!” He slapped his knee in mirth.

It was with heavy hearts that we said goodbye to these folks and began to head east.

We went up into the mountains. They were big and jagged and had snow on them.

After a few hours you break out onto a plateau. The landscape is like an immense furrowed blanket.

Few trees or buildings break the mottled ground. It’s like the sky has battered everything into submission. Hundreds of hills cower from the winds, pulling their scraggy brown hats over their ears. They march on and on and on and on and on, finding no escape.

Nothing happens suddenly. There are gargantuan valleys but no gorges or drops. Each hill takes a few hours to drive up. Your sense of progress is ruined; mocked by the exaggerated scale.

It is like an ocean of land. Easy to picture wagon trains sailing slowly across it, buffeted by the terrible winds, sinking down into each crevice and slowly rising up the bosom of each hill. It must have been terrifying.

We stayed in Couer d’Alene, whose beautiful name was bequeathed to her by French traders. This was the first conservative and Christian town we have been too.

We stayed with a lady who describes herself as a devout pagan. She used to be a biker and a drug addict, then cleaned up her act because she got pregnant. She told the dude who had done the deed to “get”, and he happily obeyed.

She decided she wanted to have a faith to pass on to her son, but not the Christian one she grew up with. She chose paganism. She does rituals and celebrates the passing of the seasons.

She is sympathetic to Christianity and her Christian neighbours, but sadly they do not always return the sentiment.

Sometimes friends of her son are told they cannot play with him because his mother is a witch.

The town, despite being fairly prosperous, has lots of problems with crystal-meth and alcoholism. The children often get a very hard time there, either from parents who are addicts or parents who are abominably strict Christians.

When kids come to play with her son, or when customers come to get a massage or reiki therapy from her, they see something different. She is training to be a counsellor and asks people about their feelings a lot, she is spiritual but non-dogmatic, liberal but not an addict.

I say she is the custodian of balance and a true pioneer.

Then we drove into Montana, which is real cowboy country. We are staying in a great little mining town. It is called Butte (not pronounced “Butt”, but “Beaut”). Butte is going to get proper treatment in the next entry, which I will bring you soon. I am going to tell you everything about the place. I’ve totally fallen for it. I have been snagged on its rickety old buildings and Gallus frames, and sweetly intoxicated by the famous Berkly pit; most polluted body of water in North America.

There is snow on the ground and our windscreen is iced over. From here we are going to Yogi bear’s very own Yellowstone National Park. It will be cold.





Then we plan to go to these places:

Salt Lake City
Canyon Lands National Park
Arches National Park
Sante Fe
New Orleans
El Paso
The Grand Canyon
Las Vegas
Joshua Tree National Park
San Diego
San Francisco

If we haven’t blown budget by Vegas I plan to get rich.

Either way I’m definitely gunning for a shotgun wedding in a drive-thru chapel. Ideally not with Mon, but we’ll see.

Olympic Trek

We decided to make a detour and go see a rainforest.

It is three days later and we have come out the other side.

I have great things to report from our travels in the million acre Olympic National Park.

On the way there human habitations make a disturbing exodus from the landscape. Hills lift you gently up into forests of fir trees.

It rains and rains. The term ‘rainforest’ conjures lush undergrowth shot through with the calls of birds, the beeps of frogs, and the whirring of insects. What you forget is that it is raining there, and that this is it’s chief characteristic.

We go through small township. Everything is grey. The whole place has one splash of colour to share: a pile of pumpkins waiting sombrely for Halloween.

We get to the sea and park on the beach pretty much. We take a walk. The sand is as grey as the drizzle. The waves are even greyer. Some grey birds pad about listlessly in the sand. We watch the surface of the water. Somewhere out there in the grey, grey whales are baking in the freezing greyness.

The next morning, miraculously, the sky is clear. We drive on.

There is a small shop at the side of the road. It sells trekking stuff. Mon’s trainers have holes so we stop off. It is the end of the season and they are having a sale.

The girl keeps dropping the price of everything we touch. The whole place is haemorrhaging value beneath our fingers. I get a t shirt with wolves on it and some postcards. Mon gets some shoes.

She warns me that whether there are actually wolves in the forest is a matter of some discussion, despite their dominance of the merchandise.

Even though she saw one outside the shop once, she still hasn’t decided which side of the debate she is on. This strikes me as highly democratic.

Wolf or no, there are certainly coyotes, bears, and mountain lions. They are hundreds in there, the girl nods matter of factly. In fact right now they are stocking up their supplies preparing for hibernation.

It’s funny because I had literally just been saying to Mon how much I would love to spend the winter being slowly dismembered in a hole in the ground.

I ask the girl if she is from around here, she replies that she is from Idaho. She moved to be close to the ocean. I asked her if she surfs, she nods.

She could have moved to southern California; the warm and sticky centre of international surf culture. There would have been surf bands, surf shops, surf cafes, sex wax, sunny beaches, lifeguards, and surfers in spades.

Instead she has moved here, to a bleak and desolate stretch of coastline in the northernmost tip of the USA (excluding Alaska who is cheating).

She treks the mountains and the forests, and she surfs on that cold and inhospitable beach, all alone. The sea is a freezing, formidable mouth.

Wise people know to stay close to what they love, as the killer whales know to stay close to the seals.

Along the river, the rainforest begins. Suddenly, BANG! everyone is green. The light itself is absolutely soaked in green, it skulks around like it has been egged.

Millions of trees (maples, cedars, sikta spruce, western hemlock) all compete to grow tallest and widest fastest. Everywhere tongues of lush green are reaching out to lick you.

The redwoods in northern California were bigger. Redwoods are as thick as lighthouses. But the trees in the rainforest are bloodthirsty. They twist round each other, throttling their competitors; smaller spruces grow from older trees, piggybacking on their height, stealing their light.










I’m sure that if you slowed time down you would hear their desperate green panting, their gnarly threats and their Olympian bragging.

Each one is drenched in lichen and moss. Great beards of the stuff hang down from every branch.





We keep meeting the river. It rushes along, sick with rain and full of grey soil. It is the Hoh river. The tribe who lived on it when it was ‘discovered’ by Euro-American explorers in 1895, and who have a small reservation here today, say that the river was created as a powerful fellow called K’wati was chased by wolves through the dense pillars of the forest.

In a magical panic he threw the river out behind him as he went, trying to drown his pursuers. He ran all the way to the grey beach, and was safe. This explains why the river bounces and rushes so, and why it snarls like a wolf.





We saw elk and a tree frog.








North America has a problem with naming. The standard is low. It is like they named everywhere in a hurry. Mostly they are stolen from Europe, and even then they re-use every name a couple of times. So you type in the name of a town to your gps and then after a couple of days drive you discover that you are going to the wrong Austin in the wrong state.

The Northwest is a mighty exception. The native names are gorgeous, and some of the Euro-American ones are very fitting. I will leave you with a selection of my favourites.

Mats Mats, Seiku, Lake Ozzette, Quillayute, Suquamish, Coupeville Nolf, Poulsbo, Silverdale, Irondale, Mutiny bay, Dungeonous bay, Samish bay, Lucky pass, Deception pass.

We’re home

We have driven so far north now that the season has changed. First the redwoods petered out and the deciduous trees started, then, as the miles continued to malt from the road, the leaves began to dry and go husky and brown, then a deathly yellow, finally burning up in reds and oranges.

The whole landscape exhaled as if our relentless driving had winded it and the sky went limp with rain.

We are staying in a little town with the name of Olympia. It is the centre of power for Washington State, but is none-the-less a sleepy kind of place.

It is shrouded in what to me is a sort of mystic Americana. Wooden houses, peeling paint, an old man mowing his lawn.

We are staying with some old family friends, Lester and Candy. They used to live in England. They are happy me and Mon are staying because they haven’t really seen us since we were young enough to legitimately take a wee in our pants, and also because they are Anglophiles.

Me and Mon are happy to stay because they stewards of goodness and beauty, and because we are USAophiles. This house is overflowing with old records and good books.

The rain patters against the window, we drink coffee, eat beef jerky, homemade pickles, and listen to country, bluegrass, gospel, jazz, blues.

Imagine travelling to the other side of the world, and finding that you are at home.