My flight arrived in Portland at 1:15 on Friday afternoon, July 19th, 2013. I rented a car and drove to my friend Waylon's house. I suggested we have a cup of coffee outside, a caffeinated cheers to the beginning of my journey, our new friendship, and our weekend together. Waylon is one of the siblings in the family I know in Oregon. While I met him the three previous times I had traveled to Eugene I didn't know him well enough to consider him a friend. He was always the brother of the two siblings in his family whom I called my friends. This past winter, however, his sister told me about the almost daily blog he keeps about his life and I began reading it. I connected with a lot of his values and via Facebook asked him he would like to become pen pals with me, writing letters by hand and sending them to each other via the postal service, an old fashioned and antiquated way of communicating, but one I would recommend for getting to know someone and maintaining a friendship. He said yes and over several months we created a friendship via correspondence. In May, he was visiting family and friends in Minnesota and asked me if I would like to have dinner together, to which I agreed, and he came to my house where we met for the first time as friends. Conversation and connection ensued. A few weeks later I decided to visit his family and several other friends in Oregon, and asked him if I could stay with him for the weekend in Portland and if he would be interested in doing things together. He agreed. A wonderful weekend with a new friend commenced.
Waylon chooses not to own a car in Portland so I drove and he navigated via his Smart Phone. Prior to arriving, I was a bit anxious about driving in a metropolitan city I didn't know, but it turned out my anxiety was unnecessary, as if often the case, another life lesson learned again, because driving was really easy and enjoyable.
Our first destination was the Japanese Zen Garden in Portland. A Zen approach—creating a sense of inner and outer peace, accepting and appreciating the present moment, and mindfully moving through our moments, days, and lives—is one of things that attracted Waylon and I to each other as friends. Having the Zen Garden as our first destination was perfect because it acknowledged that foundation and immediately, especially for me after flying, created a sense of beauty, serenity, and appreciation of the present moment, a mindset I kept close to my heart for the rest of the trip.
To our delight, there was a large rose garden right before the Zen Garden with the largest roses I've ever seen. They were a multitude of colors and in various stages of bloom and each variety was as distinct in its fragrance as it was in its palette and maturity. I didn't think of it at the time but I started my Oregon Journey with the cliché stop and smell the roses. And I did. For the entire time I was in Oregon I really slowed down and savored the moment. I took it all in. I was grateful for these friends and this new place in which I traveled.
I'm not always a picture taker but I remembered often to take pictures of nature and of my friends and except for not seeing one person that I easily could have and forgetting my camera when I met another, I captured a lot of this journey in photographs which makes me happy. Photographs can be a way of noticing and capturing the moment in that moment and then having the visual memory to draw upon later to remember and take you back to that moment later.
If one's image is silent walking through the Zen Garden then Waylon and I challenged that belief. We talked the entire time. While much of our conversation was spiritual and intellectual in nature, what surprised me is how often we told each other stories that made the other laugh. You wouldn't necessarily equate laughter with a Zen Garden, but then again, the more I understand Zen the more I realize that a lighthearted and humorous reponse and expectation to life makes it easier and more enjoyable to live.
The story that made us laugh the hardest was when we were both sitting on a bench in front of one of the rock gardens. In a moment of zen like illumination, a memory of Waylon flashed into my mind, the one memory I have of him from the past several times when I met him. I knew him primarily as the brother of my friends at the time, Natasha and Joshua, but wasn't friends with him. I had an impression of Waylon, which was all around good guy, like his siblings, and I'm sure I had conversations with him, but I had no specific recollections. Except for this one which came to me while contemplating rocks rakes into circles surrounding a large stone, the ripple of our actions:
I'm sitting in the back right side seat of a car; Waylon is in the back side left of the car; and Elena, his girlfriend at the time, is between us. Elena's mom and dad are in the front, her dad driving and her mom in the passenger seat. Waylon rolls down the window and Elena's mom says, “Waylon, are you warm? I can turn up the air conditioning.” To which Waylon nonchalantly and matter of factually says, “No, I just passed some gas and was letting it out of the car.” We both laughed really hard when I told Waylon this, Waylon especially. It was particularly funny because I said I think most people would have denied the fart and said, “I'm a little warm.” Waylon in his admirable honesty had nothing to hide. Once he said this Elena's mother, Marie, replies, “Well, thank you, Waylon. That is really kind of you. Jack doesn't roll down the window when he does that. He just stinks up the entire car. How hard is it to roll down a window. Not hard at all as you just demonstrated. Did you hear that Jack? Just roll down the window. That's all you have to do. Elena, Waylon is a keeper. A boy who rolls down a window when he passes gas in the car is a keeper.” Waylon and I laughed even harder because Marie is like this: a larger than life wonderful woman with an exuberant personality.
After the Zen Garden we drove to a restaurant called the Farm where we would meet, Mary Jean, another friend of mine and Waylon's.. Mary Jean, along with Waylon's older sister Natasha, older brother Joshua, and Natasha's best friend and Joshua's girlfriend at the time, all grew up in the same small town, Melrose, and after graduating from college, moved together with a few other friends from Minnesota to Eugene in 1998. Soon thereafter Waylon moved to Eugene, and then his other brother, and then after Stacy and Joshua got married and had a son, Waylon's mom and dad moved to Eugene. . In addition, several other of their friends from Melrose, two of them who are friends of mine and one of the reasons I wanted to make this journey back to Eugene, and Stacy's sister, two brothers, and mom have all moved to Eugene. It was a twenty first century Oregon Trail, the Melrose Migration from Minnesota to Oregon.
Waylon and I arrived early and had a drink at the bar—he a locally brewed beer and I a rose. According to the man at the upscale wine store I sometimes frequent in Eagan where I live, “It's the year of the rose.” When Mary Jean arrived there were hugs all around. It's good seeing someone after nine years and feeling as though only nine weeks have passed. I assumed it would be this way with all of my friends here in Oregon. We would still share that connection even though we each had new additions to our personalities and new elements in our lives. Take Mary Jean, for example. Last time I saw her she was single. Now she was engaged and getting married in three weeks. Last time I saw her she ate a vegetarian diet. Now she ate a paleo diet. Last time I saw her she was living in Eugene. Now she was in Portland. And yet, the essence of Mary Jean remained the same, and I would find this true for all of my friends.
Why I had such a long stretch of time between visits I'm not sure. One of the friends whom I would visit later asked me if someone had done or something that made me lose the connection with all of them and the answer is no. In a way, there were so many of them that it was hard to keep in touch with all of them and soon I wasn't keeping in touch with anyone of them. We get busy. Some friendships fade after that happen. These friendships didn't, however, despite lack of communication. I still kept these friends as important people in my life and valued their personalities, values, and actions. We all get busy and sometimes in this busyness we forget to connect with the people who matter to us. Now that I've seen all of them again and broken the pattern of not seeing them, I want to start a new commitment of seeing them on a more regular basis.
Back at the vegan and vegetarian restaurant, we enjoyed catching up. Mary Jean told us about her paleo diet--meats, vegetables, good fats, no grains--, her cross fit work out, her acupuncture business, and her upcoming wedding in two weeks. I drank my first pinot gris, a white wine produced by many Oregon wineries, and ate the tastiest and thickest veggie burger I've ever eaten. I decided that since Waylon was vegan and Portland was vegan friendly that I would eat primarily vegan for the weekend.
We said our goodbyes to Mary Jean and Waylon and I drove back to his house. tired and around ten o'clock, normal bed time for both us, Waylon and I called it a day, a great day, for each of us, and for me, the start of a great trip.