Road Tripping & Tessering Through California, Nevada and Oregon

There’s something that puts my mind at ease about being on the open road. I will fly when I need to, but I find that security checks, long lines and baggage claim get in the way of enjoying the experience of the journey. I had been looking forward to my latest trip since we started planning it a few months ago. My favorite road buddy Tim Pershing and I set out on a Saturday morning for an adventure that would take us to Reno, Ashland, Napa and points in between.

The drive to Reno meant trekking up the 395 and through Bishop, CA. Tim wrote about a recent drive on this highway last month in the Reno Gazette-Journal. We had lunch at Jack’s (as we have on previous trips through Bishop) and then visited Spellbinder Books, a gem at the foot of the Eastern Sierra Nevada. Be sure to check out their local section for some interesting books on the region. I picked up No Rooms of Their Own: Women Writers of Early California, 1849-1869 edited by Ida Rae Egli.

After a visit with some friends in the Reno, NV area, we hit the road for Ashland, OR. Even though small, independent bookstores seem to be disappearing, several have managed to survive in Ashland. Our first stop was Bloomsbury Books—a good place to pick up Shakespeare related books and items.

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Shakespeare Books & Antiques had a whole bookcase dedicated to banned books, which included quite a few of my favorites. It is just a reminder that I need to be reading more banned books. Where there is controversy, there is often a good story.

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We also visited Antiquarium Books & Antiques, where every shelf, nook and wall was filled with bits of the past. This is the kind of place where a mannequin hand could be at peace resting on an old copy of The Paris Review and a typewriter. To walk through the tight pathways of books, rusty tins, knick-knacks, faded furniture and dusty magazines was truly like travelling back in time.

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Our main reason for visiting Ashland was seeing a stage adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, which was part of the 2014 season of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF). The OSF staging of this book seemed to be for people like me who fell in love with the story as a child. The experience of reading the book is as much a character in the play as Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin are. Throughout the production, characters are on stage reading from copies of the text. One of the most present readers is a girl who at times works on a science experiment on stage right. She and the other readers serve as our gateway into this story in that they take us into the action at the place we first entered it when reading the book. It is a place where the words on the page meet our imagination and where bed sheets can form the wings of a centaur-like creature. It also allows us, for a brief moment, to believe that the concept of traveling through space and time by tessering seems like a real possibility.

The set was minimal, making the play somewhat conceptual in that it asked the audience to supply their imagination to fill in gaps. The effect meant that at times I felt like I was reading instead of seeing a play. The OSF interpretation of the story was a reminder of why I love L’Engle’s book so much, and I highly recommend it to anyone who feels the same way about the original text.

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While you are in Ashland for the theatre scene and bookstores, make the drive north to Central Point to visit Rogue Creamery. We bought some Echo Mountain Blue Cheese. All other blues pale in comparison to this amazing cheese, and it went quite nicely with the wine we bought next door at Ledger David Cellars. The two businesses share a parking lot with Lillie Belle Farms Chocolate Shop. I find the idea of eating chocolate to be as appetizing as devouring a bowl of dirt, so this obviously is not my kind of store (I’ll give you a moment to get over your shock of someone hating chocolate), but I know many of my chocophile friends would think this place was heaven with its cases of beautiful handmade chocolates and friendly staff. They even have Smokey Blue Cheese Truffles made with cheese from Rogue Creamery.

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Our trip finished with a stop in Napa for a few days before we made the drive back to Los Angeles. The highlight of our stay in Napa was a visit to Kasten Family Wines, which is owned by some fellow California Lutheran University alumni. This winery grew out of their love for winemaking, and that shows in the quality and richness of their wines.

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It was hard to return, knowing that meetings, blog posts and presentation preparation were waiting for us when we got back to LA. But we are back at work, so we can earn the money to feed the travel addiction. I have already picked out the plays I want to see during the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s 2015 season, so perhaps another trip to Ashland isn’t too far off.

Gardens, Dragons & Wine

I recently took a break from the LA area and went up to Napa with some friends—both fictional and real. As I mentioned in my last post, I gave a lot of thought to the books I would take with me, and I ended up reading The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett and The Eye of Zoltar by Jasper Fforde. I also took Mary Austin’s The Land of Little Rain, but didn’t get to it on this trip.

I had never read The Secret Garden as a kid, so I was looking forward to it. I am part of a book group called Rediscovering the Classics, and this was the last book in a series of that explored books written by women in a variety of genres. Sometimes a book just happens to find you at a time in your life when it needs to be read. For me, The Secret Garden is one such book.

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Over the last few months I have put a lot of work into planting my own home garden. What makes this garden so special for me is that I am living in the house that used to belong to my grandmother. It was the house she and my grandfather raised my mother in and a house that I spent a lot of time visiting as a child. I have pulled many weeds, and I have planted roses, a wildflower garden, some veggies and a few other things. In The Secret Garden, Mary Lennox and those around her are healed and changed by the garden, and working on my garden has brought me that same feeling. It’s a connection to my past as I pull weeds and dig in the same dirt that others in my family worked in years ago. I even have a pair of nesting Western Scrub Jays that have taken quite an interest in what I’m doing, much like Mary’s robin friend in The Secret Garden. Here is one of my bird friends admiring my work recently as I pulled weeds around my tomatoes.

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Although I read most of this book in Napa, I kept thinking back to my garden and hoping that five days without watering wouldn’t do my plants in. It turns out they thrived, and it made me realize that maybe plants do best when left alone to grow and bloom.

I also read The Eye of Zoltar, which is the third book in Fforde’s Dragonslayer series. I have been a big Fforde Ffan for quite awhile. This series is his foray into the YA genre after writing quite a few books for adults. In the first book in the series, Jennifer Strange lives in a  world where magic is real, yet magical levels are such that sorcerers are relegated to using their powers for things like rewiring houses,  unclogging stubborn drains and finding lost objects. Jennifer manages an agency for such a group of sorcerers, and the books follow her journey through that, troubles with the greatest sorcerer of all time and finding out she is the last Dragonslayer. Zoltar spent a lot of time with me in Napa, and I think this is my favorite book in this series. Here is a picture at the beautiful CADE Winery, which is situated high up on a hill and has amazing views of the Napa Valley–a view that was nice enough to keep me from opening my book while we waited for the winery tour to begin.

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Of course, no trip to Napa would be complete without a visit to two bookstores I have visited on previous trips there: Copperfield Books in Calistoga and Main Street Books in St. Helena. As I mentioned in my last post, both places are gems in a world where most bookstores are disappearing. I managed to pick up a copy of Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot, Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth and some stationery. Even in a wired world, I still enjoy letter writing, so I buy stationery when I see it. It seems that good letter writing paper is getting harder and harder to find.

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On my last full day there, I went for a walk around St. Helena, and followed signs to the Robert Louis Stevenson Silverado Museum. When on a trip, I never pass up an opportunity to explore the small museums I find along the way. Such places are usually run by people who are passionate about what they do, and they therefore put a lot of care into the exhibits. If you happen to be in St. Helena, take a moment to stop by this little museum dedicated to the author. Stevenson and his wife Fanny Osbourne spent their  honeymoon on Mount St. Helena, and he wrote about the experience in The Silverado Squatters. The museum is located at the St. Helena Public Library.

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At the last winery I visited, I asked an employee in the tasting room to give me some suggestions on books to read about the life and history of the Napa Valley. He gave me some good suggestions on learning about wine and one history book, but I am really hoping to find good novels on the subject. I plan to ask this question on future trips to Napa wineries to see if I can find a fellow fiction nerd in the vineyards. If you know of any good novels about the area, feel free to make suggestions in the comments.