In Oregon…even our commutes are awesome.

Ok…so I know I haven’t blogged in a while but cut me some slack. I’ve been working!

Yes that’s correct, I’m back to the real world. A few weeks ago I was offered a position with a company in McMinnville, which is just on the edge of what I considered to be a reasonable commute. This past monday I started the job as well as the long drive of about 45 minutes each way.

I was thinking about all of my commutes over the past 20 years and I laughed. What an absolute nightmarish joke they were. If you live in Texas and you have a commute…don’t fool yourself..it sucks. There’s nothing worse than getting on one of the straight flat freeways at 75 MPH and white knuckling the shit out of the steering wheel hoping “today isn’t the day I die”. If you don’t have a commute like that in Texas – congratulations; However, the most exciting part of YOUR commute is the new shopping center with the Taco Bell and Starbucks flanked strip mall. Don’t lie…you know that’s true.  And traffic? forget about it.

The first day commute is always stressful because you’re not comfortable with the route. I got up at a reasonable time to NOT put me at the office before anyone arrives, but to take my time and pay attention to traffic flow, turns, and the surroundings.

What I found was similar to the way I’ve been living for the past few months – rubbernecking. I couldn’t stop looking around…even though I’ve driven the road a few times already. The light here is crazy different minute to minute. The scenery you just saw in the flat cloudy light becomes much deeper and colorful when the sun breaks through. The field depths, the foliage, and the vines seem to reach out and grab you.

Of course by “vines” I mean grapevines…and by “grapevines” I mean WINE! My commute takes me through the heart of wine country, so the road (2 lane country highway) is flanked on either side by wineries. So you can imagine in the morning light how beautiful the wineries are against the rolling hills.

In the evening I’m headed back towards Portland which means more views! Where there aren’t wineries there are hazelnut and walnut orchards for acres…and fruit/vegetable/honey stands. Everywhere you see an orchard, there are bee hives. So those stands sell their goods on the side of the road, only a few feet from where it was actually produced (reminds me of Pennsylvania).

Right now we have some amazing strawberries so I decided I had to stop at one of these stands. I wandered their shelves picking out salted roasted hazelnuts (which were processed and roasted in the room a few feet away), walnuts, and blueberry flower honey. The prices were more reasonable than anywhere we’ve ever been (including anywhere in TX) and the quality was second to none (as you can imagine). I’ve never tasted such a strong flavor of walnuts…amazing.

As I’m walking to my car with the haul I look up over the hazelnut trees…and there’s mount Hood! Snow capped still – wispy clouds surrounding the summit, I stood and smiled(on a good day I can see multiple snow capped mountains). As I smiled I got a little teary. Trying to appreciate everything that we have worked so hard for over the last few years. I stood and took it all in…the occasional smell of strawberries….interrupted rudely by the douglas fir trees across the street.

This morning I started down the same commute I’ve had all week…and several hot air balloons were floating slowly over some of the wineries. I laughed because I didn’t think a commute this long could ever be THIS enjoyable.

I had serious concerns that when I started my job, I would stop appreciating Oregon. What I’ve found is that even in the mundane…there are things to be appreciated. I can honestly say I never thought I would sit at a stop sign in a small sleepy town in Oregon while coming home from a long day at work and say to myself “this is awesome”.

 

“Hey…you made it”

Last weekend we made a big push to see more sights before Ginger started her job. We had heard that Cape Lookout offered an excellent vantage point to view whales off the coast. So we saddled up and made the hour trek we’ve become accustomed to over the past couple months to the Pacific ocean. It was a pleasant drive (as usual) with the standard winding mountain road flanked by enormous trees with the occasional break for overlooks.

With the stress of job searches winding down and the beginning of employment ramping up, our adrenaline was high.

The day would begin at the Tillamook cheese factory. Ginger and I had always been huge fans of their cheese, so forgive us for not realizing they also made ice cream. As we wandered the self guided tour, there were assembly line workers awkwardly looking up at us…but the occasional smile and wave from the floor made us more comfortable watching people work. Ha! There’s only so many vats of milk and hairnets one can endure so we made our way to the tasting room and the gift shop….and ultimately the cafe. As we giggled at all the crapery one could buy, we both knew how this was going to end – easily a pants size larger. I found myself craving the cheeses they only sell locally. It reminds me of the old myth (which actually isn’t a myth at all) that Guinness keeps the top notch beer for themselves and ships the rest out. Tillamook has several versions of cheese they keep only in the Pacific northwest…unfair? Tough get over it. Anyway, after our purchases (and believe me at 16 dollars worth, we did good to escape with that little) we stopped at the ice cream bar. Now if you know Ginger you know that her indecision when her brain becomes overwhelmed with so many choices can get in between you and your enjoyment of a delicious dessert. I’ve learned over the years that “all bets are off” as far as chivalry is concerned when dessert is in question. Delayed gratification is an excellent concept for young people to learn, I am not young and I’ve had my fair share of delays in my life…so get the hell out of the way and let me order my cone, woman!

After enjoying the excellent waffle cone of my typical “rocky road”, we made our way to the coast. As usual we found ourselves “ooo’ing” at the natural beauty that Oregon has to offer. I had a brief Skype chat from the beach with some previous co-workers and friends, so it gave me the opportunity to catch up with them in a clear mindset. It was great to see and talk with them.

We headed down to the beach and while the air temp was a beautiful 70 degrees I assure you the snow runoff river that flowed into the ocean was slightly lower. We walked along the beach in our bare feet hoping to catch a glimpse of a grey whale or an orca. We decided to move vantage points, so we made our way to Cape Meares. A charming lighthouse tour got our excitement up, because the guides were talking about hearing whales before seeing them. While waiting in the gift shop I struck up a conversation with a woman who was telling me about a “sure fire” location to see whales. Once again knowing who to talk to pays off in Oregon. She said on the way to Yaquina Head bay there’s a spot known as Depoe bay that offers the best refuge for whales and it’s almost certain we’ll see them. It’s about 40 miles south of where we were. Note: for those of you in Texas with one million routes of 75mph+ roads…this does not mean a 30 minute drive. In Oregon 40 miles along the coast or through a forest means .75 miles of 55mph – 2.25 miles of 45mph – 1.5 miles of 40mph – 10 miles of 25mph – and 25.5 miles of 35mph. This will get you to your destination anywhere between 50 minutes and 3.5 hours so plan accordingly.

We sat for a break over Cape Meares and watched seals frolic in the ocean. We looked up and saw another bald eagle giving a very typical landing pose on the tallest available tree. Wings pointed up, it used the tips to flick at the wind lightly as it came to rest on a branch that slowly swayed upon receiving its weight. We are becoming quite good at bird watching and have realized the best method is to wait for them to come to you. As we sat there I looked over and saw an enormous shadowy figure flying to us. Normally in Texas that’s either a red tail hawk or a vulture, so my brain was trying to make out the shape. I was speechless as I tried to mutter something…”I think….I think….uh…I think…uhhhhhhh” I was slapping Ginger’s leg trying to get her attention. Right as I did – she looked and watched the largest bird either of us had ever seen soar about 20 feet over our heads. It was a golden eagle, our first one in the wild. We were in complete shock and right then and there we made a pact to never take any of this for granted. I’m confident neither of us ever will…as proof by us taking pictures of turkey vultures on the ground no more than 100 feet from our front door in Texas. We’ve always appreciated nature and what it has to offer so I’m positive we will continue to appreciate what we are given.

Giddy and high from nature’s blessing, we hopped in the car for a varied speed and timed journey to Depoe bay. We went through some great small towns and each one prompted Ginger’s standard response of “look how cute this town is”…and my conditioned response of “yeah we’ll need to book a weekend here”. The fact we can hit the coast in such a short drive is a luxury we’ve never had. We arrived in the bay shortly after the whale watching center closed so we circled back to find a place to park. Where better than next to a giant fiberglass whale sculpture, surely that means something right? RIGHT. While parking Ginger said…”what the hell…look…look…look that’s got to be a whale”. She was right. Against the backdrop of the setting sun we watched a whale spout, breach, and go back down. We got our binoculars out approached the seawall and watched for 20 minutes as the whales poked their heads up as if to say “Hey…you made it”. A phrase I muttered in a goofy voice that had Ginger and I rolling in laughter after an accomplished mission.

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Cape Meares lighthouse