One of the things I love about coming back to the States is the fact that every where I look there is another microbrewery, or place that serves craft beer. The selection is so great especially in states such as Colorado and Oregon where the craft beer revolution started, that sometimes I have a hard time deciding on which one I will pick to enjoy. Most of the time I just pick the most bitter IPA because that is usually my favorite, but lately I have enjoyed a few porters because I have had a hard time finding them lately, and every once in a while when a brewery get ambitious and make a triple, I jump on that opportunity. The craft beer revolution has sunk its claws into the fabric of the American culture and it will not be going away any time soon. The bigger domestic breweries are even feeling the sting of this shift in American tastes that they are not making the profits that they once did, and I am under the mindset that I would rather spend five dollars a beer on a couple of these craft beauties than spend it on three of the flavorless mass-produced lagers that give money to a large corporation that does not care about its craft.
This flavor explosion can also be found in many cities in Europe, especially further north, but the rest of the world has not yet caught up yet. Korea was getting better every year that I was out there to the point where I was able to find good beer even in the neighborhood that I lived, and the convenience store across the street even started to stock IPAs on the week that I left. They still had a way to go to reach the same level of even the states in America just starting to understand this revolution, but I could see that it was on its way. Japan had also had a few places that was making its own beer, and I have really enjoyed those small little brew-pubs that I have found out there, but I do not know if it has gotten to the point of have beer festivals, and having certain beers on tap no matter where you go. But they also have a couple of other drinks out there that compete with the typical beer, and it might make it a little harder for the craft beer revolution to make stronger in-roads there.
I am a little worried about Thailand though. The domestic beers are huge out there, and they are so cheap that people just consume them at a regular pace without ever worrying about finding something that might have a little more taste. I have been told that there are a couple of places that produce their own beer, but they are further downtown, and will require a bigger effort to make it there if I want a good beer. I have seen them for sale at the grocery store, but the selection is still relatively small. The revolution is still trying to find a foothold in this part of the world, but it is at the same place that Korea was at four years ago. I will just have to be patient, and eventually I will see more and more options made available, but it won’t be at the same level that I see in my home state or in Oregon where breweries are basically across the street from each other and trying to compete for your business.
It is the small adjustments that I will have to make as I make the move, but it is only a small concession. The bonuses will far outweigh this small disadvantage, and I am sure that I will still love all of the other things that I find out in Thailand.
Black Butte Ranch in Central Oregon is a strange blend of a lot of things that combined together make for an amazing vacation place. There are houses and cabins that are for rent, each one unique and comfortable in their own way. There are many things to do away from the commercialism that some vacation spots tend to throw in your face. And there is this harmony on the ranch with animals of all kinds. I believe that it is these animals that make the ranch a unique place to spend time at, no matter what season you decide to come here.
Underneath the shadow of the looming Black Butte in the middle of the ranch is a huge working field where workers move them around to make sure the fields are not destroyed by their grazing. There is a bike path that runs through the field that allows you to get closer to these animals and watch them as they go about their lazy day. The horses are also used to go on rides through the forests that surround the ranch, and during weddings, they will let them out in the fields giving photographers the perfect picture of the horses running free after the ceremony has taken place.
But the animals that inhabit this corner of the state are not always domesticated. There are a lot of wild animals that make their way through the grounds. Besides the squirrels, chipmunks, and various types of birds, I have heard coyotes howls in the middle of the nights, and have spotted so many deer that it become commonplace. Just yesterday, as I left the place I was staying, I saw a deer grazing on the wild grass in the front yard. It quickly bounded away when he saw that I was there, but they have also found shade underneath decks, and I came across this one off of the bike path near one of the gold courses, just enjoying an early afternoon munch.
But the animals are also brought in by the residents of the ranch. Early in the evening, you can always see people out walking their dogs and there are even more lounging on the decks that overlook the various bike trails. Some of them have even become staples of the people that come to visit on a regular basis. They are probably the most friendly of the residents of the ranch and are always willing to get to know a stranger a little better.
Overall, it is the animals of the ranch that transform the place from a mere vacation spot to a place of fun and surprises. It is one of the main reasons that I love this place so much.
I have really enjoyed the time that I have gotten to spend with family in friends over the last couple of weeks in both Colorado and Oregon. It is great to catch up and to go out and see a bunch of spots that I am familiar with as well as some new ones that have popped up since I have been away. Being back in the country that I grew up in brings back a comfortability that can’t be matched, but it has also worn me out.
It is probably one of the biggest complaints that I hear from people who decide to make a career out of international teaching, coming home can be exhausting. It is not a bad kind of exhausting. You get to see the people that you love and catch up, but the problem that comes is when you are being pulled in twelve different directions so you can make sure that you spend enough time with everybody you have come back home to see. By the time I get back to my job overseas, I am worn out and I need to get back to work so I can schedule some down time.
I know it sounds kind of bad that I am whining about going out to eat on a regular basis, hanging out with family and friends, and taking a break from the grind of being a teacher. Do not get me wrong. I love my summer vacation. I need it in order to recharge my batteries, so I can take on the pressures of the work that I do. I also love seeing all of these people and the fun stories that I get to create along the way. But I also need that time of mindless vacation where I have no concerns or worries, and I can take in the moment a little for myself.
I am lucky in this aspect for there is a place where my path leads me every summer where I can do this exact thing, Black Butte Ranch. This little gem in the high desert of Central Oregon forces me to take time and just relax. It is a beautiful spot filled with lodgepole pine trees and clumps of aspens. It boasts of four pools where you can just kick up you feet and soak in the sun, and if you want to take a more active break, it has miles of bike paths that will get you lost for a time but also will take you back to a familiar spot eventually. There are also tennis courts and two amazing golf courses. You can go enjoy yourself at the parks or the little lake in the middle of the ranch that rents out paddles boards and kayaks or during the dusk hours attracts fishermen and bats looking for bugs that you can watch. There are three different restaurants and a couple of snack bars so you can grab a tasty bite to eat or a drink. All of this and more is at least a ten minute drive from any form of commercialized civilization that just pushes you into that stage of being completely disconnected from your problems and worries.
I am glad that I have been able to make it out here to really take in the summer months and relax for a bit. So for all of you that I have caught up with over the summer, it has been great seeing you and I miss you already, but I need a little John time and the best place in the world I have found where I can get this is Black Butte Ranch. So I am going to take this time to recharge the batteries and get ready for that next jump over the pond to my next adventure in international teaching in Thailand.
One of the things that I miss the most while living in South Korea is the ability to go outside and take a stroll after a nice snow storm. I can do it, but I find myself deep in the city crowd, and it is not really fun because the wind bites, and the cold digs down deep into my bones clinging to them for hours after I return home. Being in Central Oregon at Black Butte Ranch, I was able to take the time to go out on one of these walks through the various bike paths and enjoy the scenery and the calm and quite.
Black Butte Ranch turns into a place where I can breathe easier and reflect on life during the winter. When I left on my walk, I thought that I would be the only person out on the bike paths, but I was surprised at the amount of people out there doing the same thing. Most of them were families taking the time away from their televisions and warmth of their houses to enjoy what the Ranch has to offer. Or they were out to give their dogs a little bit of time in the snow. But they were few and far between, so most of the time I felt like I had the whole place for myself.
Every turn took me to a place I was familiar with due to all of the time I have been able to spend out here during the summer. But with a blanket of snow over it all, it gives it a new look like it was the first time I was seeing it. I know I was out on the Ranch by myself, and not sharing these moments with anybody else, but it was the fact that I was out there by myself that made me feel like I was walking away with something that was completely mine. It was the walk that returned me to a simpler time when I had these moments to myself instead of the hustle and bustle and the constant contact of the busy city. Even though it was a little bit of exercise, the walk was the thing I needed in order to recharge the batteries I needed to take on the last semester at my school.
I love the activity that can be found at this vacation spot during the summer as I hear the voices of children laughing from the various pools or the folks taking their voyages on the horses that they can rent out there, but I think the winter time is my favorite time at the Ranch. The fact that there is not as much to do forces me to take the time to stop and look at the Ranch a little more closely. The ruddiness my cheeks gathered and the calm I collected made it one of my favorite moments on this trip so far.
It was time for a change of scenery yesterday, so I left Portland behind to head off to central Oregon. I went from skies covered in clouds spitting out rain to clear skies and ground full of snow. It was nice to get into this winter landscape and watch the change along the way. The driving got a little slow over the Santiam Pass because the roads got icy, and there were a bunch of people who had the same idea that we did as they traveled the same path, but nobody was in a hurry, so it just added to the scenery, and made for an enjoyable drive.
Along the way, there was a discussion about how the closing of the government would affect the common man, and if we would ever see any of the effects. Granted we could watch the market as it did its crazy dance everyday, but as long as we did not panic with all of the other traders, it should not affect us very much. I do feel sorry for those people without work right now because the people governing this country couldn’t come together to come up with a solution to the problem. I would hope that they would eventually get their jobs back or find something to hold them over in the meantime. There was also a talk about how the National Parks would be closed, but what exactly that meant. Did that mean that they would put gates over the parks, and not allow anybody to enter, or would they just leave them open so people could come and go as they pleased. It didn’t really hit us until we stopped at the Sweet Home Ranger Station in the Willamette National Forest. This is a nice half way point where we can usually stop for a bathroom break, and get the dog out for a bit. Even with our conversation, we did not think ahead enough to think whether this station would be opened or not.
It was obviously closed. It looked like the trailheads that were there were still available to hike if we wished to do so, and there were some port-a-potties outside that we could use, but nobody was keeping them clean. Luckily, we were early enough into the shutdown where they weren’t too trashed yet, but it was only a matter of time before this would change. There were no rangers there to guide us, and no maps or information made available. The forest service was one of the organizations that was no longer working. It was a little of a discomfort, but it did not affect us too much. On the news later that night I found out that the National Parks in warmer climes, such as Joshua Tree, were still open for people to drive through but the visitors’ centers were closed and they were not collecting money to maintain the beauty of these places. The parks in colder climes, such as Crater Lake, had closed the road up to the more scenic sites because of the danger involved with keeping them clear for visitors. It has caused some problems right now, but if this continues to when it gets warmer and visitors come out to see these sites, it might be a bigger problem with how things are maintained.
As I settled into my new spot for the night, I wondered if the government would get back to governing instead of fighting all of the time. There are people who need them to do their jobs, and the things that make this country beautiful might be eventually be compromised. It is only a matter of time before American feel more of the effects of this shutdown, and it shouldn’t be about which side is right or wrong. It should be about compromise and making this a great place for everybody to live in.
I know that I spend a lot of my time bringing you pictures from around the world as I get to go to some exciting places and experience some truly amazing things. I enjoy sharing these things, and I love the pictures I am able to take with my phone. Most of the pictures I share are of the landscapes and sights from the cities or countries I am visiting, and my thoughts about what goes through me as I get to see them. I am always traveling with someone, but due to their privacy I try not to include them in my blog unless I know for a fact that they will be okay with their picture up for everybody to see. Then I come back to the Unites States, and I quit taking pictures, but still blog. It is not that I do not see amazing things when I am back home; it is more that I do not go out and hunt them down. My experiences in the States is to visit with family, and do the ordinary things that most Americans do on a regular basis. Not that I don’t find this stuff interesting anymore, and that many of my followers around the world might not want to know what life is like in the United States, but I find it so routine that I have a hard time coming up with a fresh way of looking at it.
But yesterday I was able to get out of the house for a little bit and not go to one of the malls packed with last minute shoppers. I got to experience Christmas in a way that I usually do not get to experience it, the Portland rain. I have been in Portland before for Christmas, but it has been a long time since I have been in its rain. I know that a lot of people will think that because I come from Colorado that I grew up with the cliche Christmas experience of trudging through the snow every Christmas morning and drinking hot chocolate while a blizzard raged on outside, but this was not always the case. I did get to have a few white Christmases, but there were other times that I was walking around in a t-shirt and enjoying the sun. In fact, my first post of the year talked about this exact thing.
But there are many people around the world that experience Christmas in a way that is not like the one that is usually depicted on the Hallmark Channel. They put up their Santa Clauses, lights and decorations, pretending that a big snow will come and give it that extra something that makes the holidays the holidays. But it never happens. It rarely snows in Portland. In fact, a typical Christmas here is usually covered with a rain cloud as a drizzle turns everything into a lush green. It is not the cliche, but it is not wrong. It is just the way that they enjoy the holidays in this part of the world.
It reminds me of the last couple of Christmases I have gotten to enjoy in New Zealand and Australia. There will never be a chance for them to experience snow on this day because Christmas comes in the middle of their summer. But this does not stop them from putting up the same decorations that we would see in the United States, and play the same carols over the shopping loud speaking that speak of snow. It felt out of place, but it did not take the holiday away.
I guess the thing that I took out of this recent experience is that the holiday is going to come no matter what. It might not be the same as it is pictured on postcards and television, but it is still a moment to spend the day with the people that make it special. It will take a force greater than the weather to not allow this day to come every year. So for all of you out there that celebrate this day, I wish you a Merry White One, or a Sunny Holiday or like where I get to enjoy the day this year, a Rainy Little Christmas.
Yesterday was the last voyage west before the last big one back home to complete the whole circle around the world. It was a short voyage this time that did not involve a plane or a train. Instead I took a drive over the Santiam Pass from Central Oregon to make it over to the Portland area of Oregon. This drive is a beautiful drive most of the way, but there are a couple of places where you can see the skeleton of what was once a great forest but due to recent fires, it is now just a bunch of burned out trees. There are times where this look a little depressing, as if we have lost something great by having the forest fire. It is a little depressing at first but when I found out more about forest fires, they are not always the terrible thing that we think about them.
Forest fires, if they happen naturally, are an important part of the revitalization process. Pine cones need the heat of a fire in order to open in order to plant its seed and create a new tree. The old burned down trees add the much needed nutrients to the soil to let those trees grow. So even though it may look like a devastated landscape right after a fire, if you keep coming back to visit the same places where the fire took place, you will see that they are slowly starting to come back and turn into the amazing forest that you once remembered them as. There are a few places along the Santiam Pass that you can see this progress. There have been many times that I have gone over the pass and I can now start to see a significant change in what left behind. It makes me feel good that something can come out of so much destruction.
But in order for these fires to work this way, we need to let the forests alone and let them go through the process naturally. This means that we should not be cleaning up the ground cover and letting it alone so so can let this rejuvenation process happen. But this can be very dangerous for communities that are near big forests that could go up at any time with one ill placed lightning strike. It leaves an interesting debate. How far should we go to keep people safe, and what does that mean for the forests that we love so much that we moved near them in the first place? This is the debate that is going on in-between the fire fighters whose job it is to protect those homes, and the environmental programs whose major concern it is to protect the forests for future generations. There should be some middle ground that can be reached that would satisfy both parties, because they are both important for future generations. It is interesting to think about, and know that during this crazy time of year where you turn on the news and see another forest fire destroying another community, that people are working hard to come up with a reasonable solution to both problems. But it is up to us to make sure that these fires are not started by us. We need to think about what we are doing while we are out in the wilderness, so we do not leave any destruction behind. That is the important thing that we can do for the future of the beauty of the outdoors.