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Never in North Idaho

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The adventure begins in the bus depot in downtown Spokane

The sound of bongo drums caught our attention first. My friend Nancy and I had stopped at a little roadside picnic site on the Five Mile Drive that links Tacoma's Point Defiance Park with Fort Nisqually, a restored Hudson's Bay post. Next, we noted that some of those present were strangely garbed. A burly, strapping fellow paraded militantly in a black kilt. One man wore a robe that appeared to have been stitched from two beach towels. Some of the women were attired in long gowns or robes of various odd descriptions. Nancy spied an altar. "I think we've stumbled into something," she said. A banner enlightened us that that something was a "Terra" gathering. It further explained that "Terra" stood for Tacoma Earth Religions Revival Association.

People kept on arriving as Nancy and I devoured our sandwiches at a picnic table apart from the group. "Whatever they are, they drive cars just like the rest of us," I observed, scanning their vehicles as we departed. One bore a bumper sticker, ‘Something Wicca This Way Comes.’ 
 "And I didn't see any broomsticks so they must not be giving flying lessons." About that time, who should step out of one of those late-model automobiles but a woman bearing a broom. Nancy and I didn't stay to see whether flying lessons a lá Harry Potter did indeed materialize.
 Contrary to the sentiment one often hears expressed here, North Idaho is not paradise. No one place on the face of God's green earth is. The area has many limitations and shortcomings. All places have their advantages and attractions; all, their deficiencies and drawbacks.  
 We northern Idahoans have nature in our backyards, true enough. But whom are we trying to kid? We do not have many of the advantages of more populous, affluent areas, nor do we have a rich cultural diversity. Every one of us needs to experience a little of that occasionally, in all of its manifestations, in order to feel comfortable and 'with it' in our extremely diverse world.
 With that in mind, I travel and sightsee as much as I can on my limited budget. It's personal enrichment at its best, I think. I meet so many wonderful people, and am often caught unaware by adventures and experiences that I didn't anticipate.
 Take that most recent trip as an example. I'd traveled by Trailways bus to the Tacoma area to spend a few days visiting my friend. Nancy's hometown of Steilacoom, the oldest incorporated town in Washington State, is celebrating the 150th anniversary of that milestone this year. Among the featured commemorative events scheduled throughout the year was a garden tour on June 19 that Nancy had invited me to enjoy with her. She'd planned other activities and excursions as well.
 The adventure began in the bus depot in downtown Spokane on the day of my departure. Aware of my personal limitations, I do not drive in metropolitan areas larger than Spokane. I'd no more tackle I-5 in the Seattle-Tacoma area than I'd book a trip to the moon tomorrow. As a result, I've had some noteworthy experiences riding Trailway and Greyhound buses.
 Once, for example, I traveled home from Seattle with a seatmate, an elderly Spokane man. He was a Theosophist who believed in reincarnation, and regaled me the whole way with stories of his former lives, during most of which he'd "had trouble with women."  He was just trying to get through his current existence without alienating any more women, he said.
 On this particular trip, commencing on the day George Bush was visiting Spokane, a long line of people waiting to purchase tickets stretched all the way out the depot door. I breathed a sigh of relief when the notice went out that one bus was booked solid but it wasn't mine. An African-American man ahead of me at the ticket counter was much amused by the exodus. He kept repeating over and over, snickering into his hands, "The president's comin' to town and everybody's leavin'. The president's comin' to town and everybody's leavin.'"
 Once under way, I was gratified to discover the route had been changed since my last trip over the Cascades. The 9 am bus now goes over Stevens Pass, instead of Snoqaulmie, passing through Moses Lake, Ephrata,
Wenatchee and Leavenworth, into Everett on the west side, and thence down to Seattle and Tacoma. The route is not only more scenic, but there was no need to change buses and suffer the security check in Seattle. In addition, for some unexplained reason that didn't make sense in view of the higher fuel prices, the fare was also considerably cheaper than I'd paid 21 months earlier. Waits were brief at every stop, and practically nonexistent at most. I thoroughly enjoyed the ride.
 The trip was uneventful until we'd passed through Everett and were headed to Seattle. It was afternoon rush hour time, stop and go, stop and go all the way.  An intriguing optical effect between Seattle and Tacoma muted my impatience somewhat. I figured out eventually that the puzzling silver flashes, which looked like birds dipping and soaring in the sky high over the interstate, were caused by the sun's rays reflecting off the bumper-to-bumper automobiles passing below.
 Nancy was awaiting me at the depot in Tacoma. First on the agenda was a ride on the city's new light rail system, Rail Link, to the Washington State History Museum where we attended a lecture by Spokane author Jack Nisbett. The topic was the Lewis and Clark Expedition's encounter with Indian tobacco, and how the Native American view and usage of the narcotic differed from that of the whites. (To the Indians it was a sacred substance used in ritual and they didn't get addicted to it, Nisbitt said). It wasn't planned, but his talk tied in neatly with another lecture that we sat through in Steilacoom on Saturday morning. In that one, David Hatch, the Garden and Grounds Director at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello, discussed the many new plant species that the expedition sent back to Virginia. Supper in Lakeview ended Day One.
 After a visit to a bookstore far larger than anything available to us here, Friday saw us off on a Pierce County ferry to Anderson Island for an afternoon of sightseeing and fine dining. Saturday was devoted to Hatch's lecture and the garden tour.
 It was incredible! One tends to forget how much more difficult it is to garden lavishly in North Idaho than in places that have a more accommodating climate, and more affluent residents, on the whole. One showplace was enormous, featuring a mansion of a house perched on a bluff above the Sound on several acres of land. The estate featured a huge fountain throwing a cascade of water ten feet into the air in front of the house, with several small pools and fountains and a tiny thread of a stream elsewhere.
 The grounds were adorned with statuary, thousands of wildly blooming roses and other flowers, and lots of greenery in the shady spots. There were well fitted-out potting sheds, pergolas and such, a swimming pool, and even a tiled patio on one end by a tall brick wall which encompassed a barbecue pit and other amenities—such as a built-in microwave! I couldn't help wondering how much wealth was required to own and maintain such a place.
 A visit Sunday morning to Tacoma's Point Defiance Rose Garden was another sensory experience bordering on overload, after which we took the aforementioned Five Mile Drive to Fort Nisqually with its many artifacts and exhibits having to do with the fur trade. Weird as it sounds, I simply couldn't keep my hands off an unusually patterned beige and terra cotta Victorian wallpaper in the newly restored chief factor's house. It had a three-dimensional effect one doesn't often encounter in wallpaper.
 That evening I walked my first labyrinth, adjoining the Pierce County Public Works Building. The grounds consisted of several acres of lush green lawn with even a native plant garden. How often do you see public buildings landscaped like that in North Idaho?
According to Nancy, labyrinths were constructed in the Middle Ages, often in cathedrals, as a place of meditation for the faithful who could not go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Unlike mazes, which are designed to deceive, one can't get lost in a labyrinth, she said, and threading your way through its narrow, circular pathways to the center and back is oddly relaxing.
 On Monday morning I caught the bus for the long trip home, a brief respite from my usual routine at an end. I had enjoyed myself immensely. So, yes, North Idaho has its bragging rights, but I still maintain it ain't paradise and other localities have features and attractions that we can't match. In addition, and this might be the best reason to travel out of our comfort zone, you'll find that the world is full of great people still, and there's no reason for too much doom and gloom. Travel is the best way I know to gain some perspective, and is a welcome antidote to the daily news—not to mention giving exposure to differing viewpoints. At the Hatch lecture, Nancy introduced me to a friend with a daughter living in Sandpoint who is wildly opposed to the bypass. It gave me a great deal of satisfaction to be able to inform her that it's the newcomers, for the most part, who oppose the bypass. Many of us oldtimers just want to see it built, ASAP! As for the witches' gathering, where would I ever stumble into the likes of that in North Idaho?

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Marylyn Cork

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gardening, travel, Spokane, bus, Tacoma, Fort Nisqually, Steilacoom, labyrinth

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