« sure of you | Main | celebration and mourning »

whose slender roots entwine altars that piety neglects

Oh the adventures we have had! So many to tell you!

Like Wednesday night's neighborhood game night, hosted at our house. Or Friday night catching up and watching stuff with ProcrastiGirl. And yesterday, Sal rode in the Bridge Pedal, which is a bike ride that covers 35 miles and ten of the city bridges (including the St. Johns Bridge). (Which means Sal logged almost 55 miles, since it was 9+ miles to the starting point and then the same distance home.) And afterward, we did up a big ol' batch of stir fry on the patio, because life is ridiculously good.

Saturday, while we took our time over the brunch Sal made, talking about what to do with the day, we decided we were long overdue for a driveabout. We were getting a late start, so we needed a closer destination than, say, the coast. We decided on Vernonia, since we haven't explored much of the Coast Range that lies between Hwy 26 and Hwy 30.

We often pack a picnic for a driveabout, but didn't have much in the fridge that wouldn't take some prep time, so we decided instead just to grab a few snacks and our water bottles and go. Daylight was burning, after all. (You'll note I didn't say "sunlight", as it was overcast almost all day. But still temperate and nice, so no complaints here.)

Vernonia is situated in a little valley in the forested hills of the Coast Range. (Which sort of makes it a mountain town if you consider the Coast Range mountains. We don't, but the rest of Oregon does, so.) We took the Scappoose-Vernonia Highway from Hwy 30, a two-lane highway winding through deep, dark (I mean dark) forest and up and over the hills/mountains.

the Nehalem River at Hawkins ParkIt's a nice little town, a bit bigger than I imagined, with a slightly-larger-than-a-pond lake at one end and the perennially-flooding Nehalem River running through the middle. We stopped at Hawkins Park, which sits right alongside the river. They've built an ingenious little dam there to create a nice swimming hole (in lieu of a city pool, presumably), complete with a concrete embankment so you don't have to walk in dirt to get to the water, a ladder over the side down into the deep end, a wooden lifeguard stand, and a charming bank of lockers. They even used a water diversion to one side to create a wading pool for little ones. It wasn't warm enough to draw swimmers while we there, not even brave ones, but it wasn't hard to imagine what it must be like on hot summer days.

Setting for a creepy horror flick? Do we commit the mortal sin of slasher films and go investigate the creepy abandoned building? Yes, yes we do.We headed to the lake next, where there's a nice paved walking path that skirts the perimeter. About a quarter of the way around, there's an abandoned building off the path about a hundred feet. According to the placard on the walking path, it's an old fuel house for a now vanished cedar mill. (The "lake", as it turns out, is the old mill pond.)  It stored cedar chips to stoke the mill furnaces. It now has trees growing inside it. I love the poetry of that. Of course we had to look inside. And if I had woken up that morning with the intent to have an adventure, I couldn't have planned a more perfect discovery of treasure.

inside, a marvelous surpriseThe interior was like something out of a story. All four concrete walls completely intact, seven trees growing around the interior's perimeter, with sword ferns and bracken ferns and vine maples spreading out in the corners. The walls are decorated with colorful graffiti in more imaginative style than mere tagging, collectively creating the effect of a mural. And every sound echoes so that you speak softly and sparingly. A row of concrete platforms running down the center look like old stone seats from some ancient pagan ritual site, one that's so old that no one knows for certain just who built it or what they built it for, and combined with the simple peaked roof gables and the light slanting in through the trees, it has the look of a cathedral.

We still had some time before we needed to head home, so instead of our snacks, I suggested the restaurant that had caught my eye as we drove through town. It was really the word "brewery" that caught my eye, because Sal loves few things more than trying a new beer in a new town wherever we go, and I have had long experience looking for the signs of such things.

The Blue House Cafe, Espresso Bar, & Brewery, as it turns out, was just as much of a treasure as the mill ruin had been.The interior is charmingly decorated, all yellow and cobalt blue, with delightful touches here and there (like the beaded curtain made of wine corks and the blue painted nail heads throughout) and an ingenious outdoor seating area. It's a quaint restaurant serving time-tested family recipies and run by people who obviously care very much about what they do.

Their menu is largely Mediterranean and everything sounded wonderful, although that's one of the toughest cuisines for me personally since there are usually several key ingredients I just can eat. (Feta, kalamata olives, lamb, gorgonzola, pepperoncinis...I could go on, but it's just depressing.) Which means scanning for something innocuous or that doesn't have too many ingredients to ask them to hold, all the while wishing I could eat more than my frustrating palate allows.

We settled on the zataar flatbread, one with feta (for him), one without (for me). No idea what zataar was, but it was an adventure and that means you have to try things without knowing everything that's in them. He ordered their porter, I ordered a lemonade. Sal said the beer was decent, though nothing to write home about. The lemonade looked more like iced tea when it came, but I wasn't feeling particularly picky so I took a sip anyway. It was indeed iced tea, but so good I was glad for the accidental mix-up. It was infused with fresh mint and sweetened with brown sugar, so it had a delicious, crisp summery flavor that was most refreshing.

PLEASE SAL FIGURE OUT HOW TO MAKE THIS FOR ME I WILL LOVE YOU FOREVER AND EVER AMENOur order arrived and with the first bite, I was in love. The flatbread was handmade and still warm, the zataar (a blend made of thyme, sumac, sea salt, and sesame seeds all ground together very finely) was mixed with olive oil and spread on the toasted flatbread, then topped with fresh tomato, cucumber, and onion. It was, in a word, heavenly. It may possibly have supplanted bruschetta as my favorite summertime treat. I'm still thinking about that meal two days later, and thinking a day trip to Vernonia may just have to be on our regular excursion list from now on.

You always take a chance on a driveabout that your search for adventure will end up being an uneventful day's drive in the car to nowhere in particular. You'll take your chances with the doubtful looking roadside cafe and it'll turn into a bust as often as naught. You'll point to a place on the map and arrive to find nothing much of interest. You'll have car trouble that is funny in retrospect, but anything but enjoyable at the time.

Still, even the least eventful driveabouts have their special moments: the hilarity that becomes a future in-joke, the music that imprints the moment just so, the odd sign or bizarre sight that makes you both go, "Did you just see...?" If they didn't, we wouldn't keep taking them. But every once in awhile, the search for a bit of adventure will turn up a little bit of mystery and a little bit of magic alongside those memories, and then you're hooked for life.

see the full set of pictures here

lunch, Paris slimline:

  • stir fry (chicken, collard greens, baby bok choi, green beans, onion, garlic, broccoli, and a special sauce blend) with jasmine rice and crushed cashews for garnish
  • cucumbers and carrots in rice wine vinegar
  • a few bites of zucchini-sweet potato bread, courtesy of the neighbor who brought it for game night lst week
  • blueberries (from our bushes!) and cherries


title taken from "Among the Ruins of a Convent in the Apennines" by William Wordsworth

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments (4)

I loved reading about your amazing adventure. That abandoned mill looks just awesome! I love moments like that when you stumble on something and your day feels almost decadent and your spirit...settles and soars at the same time. Wonderful!

Aug 16, 2011 at 8:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterTammy

You describe the feeling of that day so well. Perhaps you've had such a day yourself.... :)

It was the kind of day that brings to mind the affirmation of believing in magic. Not Harry Potter sort of magic, nor something supernatural or mystic. But magic in the "spectacular or wonderful" sense, of something out of the ordinary that encourages you be fully engaged in life right now, in this moment, and this one, and this one. We all need a good dose of that sort of magic in our lives.

Aug 17, 2011 at 12:44 AM | Registered CommenterBitty

O where have you been? Missing reading your posts to brighten up my day.

Aug 25, 2011 at 4:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterTara

Tara: I just have to tell you how much I laughed to myself when I got notification of this comment, because I knew the next one would be going up shortly. You seem to have an uncanny ability to post such comments juuuust before I'm about to update.

Thanks so much for continuing to read. Faithful readers are a blessing.

Aug 30, 2011 at 7:44 PM | Registered CommenterBitty

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>