In my vague mental plan, I was going to spend some time exploring Oregon this fall. Two things happened to change that plan: 1) Oregon, like far too much of the west, started burning down and 2) my friend Suzanne, who lives in northern CA, had a week off in early September.

I know the wildfires are sort of making the news, but at least in my window on the world, they seem to be overshadowed by politics and floods. And they’re not completely out of the norm: although 2017 is winning for number of fires, 2015 is still in the lead on acreage burned. Both years are statistically significantly higher than average, though, and more to the point, if you’re living in the smoke, the air quality is miserable. I can’t imagine how people with asthma are coping. It’s been years since I even owned an inhaler, but I felt the urge to reach for one through my entire drive through Oregon.

So instead of wandering around Oregon, I drove straight through, with a single, largely sleepless, night at a rest stop, notable only because it was my first ever night at a rest stop and my first chance to discover that rest stops are not very peaceful places to try to spend the night. It might be my last night at a rest stop, too.

I got to Arcata on Friday night. It was nothing like I expected. I knew it was a small town. I knew it was remote. I knew it was foggy a lot of the time, with year-round temperatures in the 50s and 60s. And I guess all of those things are true, but apart from the remote — yes, it was difficult to get to — it was still not what I expected.

It’s actually cute as anything, and not so small. Two bookstores, three movie theaters, multiple grocery stores and sushi restaurants, art galleries and housewares stores and furniture stores… I guess small is relative, but when I think of small, I picture southern small, where a single road has a gas station, a Dollar General, and a donut shop, and that’s considered a town. By that standard, Arcata is a city. But really, it’s the perfect small town from the “quirky town” trope. I saw the town square on Saturday morning, when I was walking Zelda, and immediately thought, “Stars Hollow, I am in Stars Hollow!”

On Saturday, S had to work, so I had a mostly quiet day — much needed after my long drives of the previous two days — hanging out at her house. At lunchtime, though, we met up at the local farmer’s market, held on the aforementioned town square, where I bought some corn & artichokes. But it was insanely hot. I say that as a Floridian. Insanely hot. I’d been promised cool weather and fog: instead I got bright sun, 97 degree temps, and smoke-filled air. The heat broke records, not just for the day but for the entire time temperatures have been measured here. I was very happy to get back to the relative cool of her house, where all the dogs (her two, my two) lay around and panted, while G (S’s husband) and I, sat on our computers, every once in a while saying, “Wow, it’s hot.”

The next morning, we went to the beach with all the dogs. It was glorious. Hot enough that shorts were fine, but with a cool breeze. The dogs were allowed off-leash and three of them ran around like puppies, while even B managed a good long walk and a lot of sniffing at interesting smells. Z chased sticks and splashed into the water and smiled happy dog smiles. Once they were tired out, S and I went to a local fish market and picked up some fresh rockfish, then stopped at a local artisan’s market and admired art and had interesting conversations about the age of some beautiful polished stones turned into jewelry. One green stone, kambaba jasper, was, according to the seller, 3 billion year old fossilized algae from Africa, and a purple stone was charoite from Russia. (Yep, I’m writing that down so that I remember it later.) That evening, instead of having our rockfish, we wound up going out for sushi.

Yesterday, I made us breakfast in the morning, of sautéed carrots, beets, bacon, and sweet potato (previously cooked sous vide, so quick to sauté), over arugula, topped with a soft-boiled egg and some fresh parsley and cilantro. It was heavy on the beets, but really pretty good. I still haven’t mastered sous vide eggs, though. Then we went to the redwoods and wandered up a trail for a while.

four dogs on a trail

The pack in the redwoods

Our walk was pretty short, because the hills were a little much for B. I probably should have left him at home. I wound up carrying him, but an uphill hike carrying a wiggly dog was a little much for me, too. Next we went looking for wild blackberries, and found plenty. We came back to the house, went down the street to a “block party” fundraiser, ate some delicious albacore for lunch, put some bids in on the silent auction, ate dessert — a gluten-free apple muffin for me — and then came back to the house and got to work.

First, we baked. I made blackberry crisp and Suzanne made blackberry calzone (pie without the pie pan). Next, I prepped baked artichokes with onion, lemon, mint, and olives, one of my favorite recipes from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook.

After that, we seriously got to work. S and G have a storage shed in the back of their house and I think my Seattle efforts inspired S. The shed was (is) stuffed to the ceiling with boxes and bags and furniture and miscellaneous objects of more-or-less emotional significance. We started pulling things out, piling them up in the yard, trying to sort them, with the aim of turning the storage shed into more usable space by emptying out some room. By the end of the day, we’d definitely made the space more accessible, but since neither S nor G really want to get rid of anything, I think the shed will be staying pretty full. But at least they can get to the boxes if they want them now.

a shed with open floor space

Usable enough that the dog approved.

This morning, S and I headed off to the beach again, bright and early. We were on our way home by 9, so I think we probably got there around 8. It was a different beach, but even more wonderful — big and wide and empty and just a little foggy. I think a lot of people think of beaches as places to go to sit in the sun, but I’m never really interested in sitting on a beach, nor do I much want to go into the ocean. I like watching the waves and taking long walks. On this beach, we could have walked forever if we’d left B at home. He was a trouper, though. He probably walked a solid mile, which is a long, long way for a small dog in congestive heart failure.

Since then, I have been writing and S has been working on her storage shed. But I am about to finish this blog post and drag her away, so that we can go visit the nearest big town, aka Eureka. Yes, Eureka. I seriously hope there’s a nice town sign that I can take a picture of myself by, because it amuses me to no end that I am so close to a town named like one so dear to my heart.

In one final note, I’m really surprised by how much I like Arcata. It wasn’t actually on my list of places that I was thinking about for possible future long-term living, but it has not only joined that list, it’s jumped pretty close to the top. I could see living here. Not in S’s driveway, which sees/hears foot traffic all night long, and not in S’s storage shed, despite its resemblance to a cute tiny house, but it’s a lovely small town. However, that’s a thought for some time far in the future. For today, I should get back to writing Grace, so I can do some more playing later!