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Pilgrimage to Ashland, Oregon

Ashland, Oregon, Fall 2014-2016

For three years in a row, I traveled to Ashland, Oregon, during the early fall for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Ashland is a quaint, small town of a bit over 20,000 residents nestled between pine-covered hills to the west and grassy hills to the east–the Siskiyou and Cascade ranges. I can walk the length of the city, from Southern Oregon University at the south end to Lithia Park to the north, in 25 minutes or less. Along the way, there are art galleries, craft shops, bookstores new and used, restaurants and clothing shops that feature soft sweaters and flowing dresses that reflect the laid-back atmosphere of this Oregon hamlet. I never knew why I loved to walk that Main Street, with all of those shops that look inviting, until I learned that the city banned chain stores from that downtown zone–no McDonalds amidst the breweries and Vctorian Bed &Breakfasts.

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The Varsity Theatre shows independent films and hosts a film festival every year. The central city plaza has flowing fountains of mineral water that flows naturally from the ground, and there is even a special fountain for dogs. Hikers and bums hang out there or near the Chamber of Commerce, strumming guitars for a few coins, as do serious musicians.


Lithia Park Musician

Ashland caters to artists, students and even four-legged friends.

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Ashland’s Drinking Fountain for Canine Visitors

Lithia Park, a 93-acre natural park with trails and park areas, is bordered by Ashland Creek. The park offers a nice hike past the rocky creek bed, a Japanese Garden and recreational areas for tennis players, children and hikers. It’s especially beautiful in the early fall, when the trees just begin to turn.


Litha Park Trees in Early Fall

Lithia Park also has a pond or two, a quiet place for contemplation.


Lithia Park Pond

I wish I could say that deer are as common as the craftsman style homes and occasional Victorian home, but the homes are multiplying, both east and west of the downtown. And the homes are getting larger and more beautiful as the city gentrifies. Up in the hills, million dollar manses with two million dollar views are going up or getting facelifts.

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Victorian Renovation

Of course, the 80-year-old Oregon Shakespeare Festival is the real draw to Ashland, bringing thousands of tourists from all over the country. They fill the hotels and Bed & Breakfasts from February to October. The Festival features plays old and new, at least two Shakespearean works every year, but also some of the classics, like Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” and a stage version of Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility.”

Growing ever more popular is the Festival’s Green Show, its free, open-air music and dance performances that run through summer and fall and draw the local community. The last time I was there, I saw a performance of Heiwa Taiko, a group of Northern California “grannies,” as they called themselves, who played vigorous Taiko drums. The oldest of the group was 92; these women were all healthy and vigorous, and their drumming reverberated through the crowd. One man danced and children sat still, in rapture.


Heiwa Taiko Performing

The oldest “grannie” drums away.


For several years, when I made my annual pilgrimage to Ashland, I stayed in the same Airbnb cottage rented by a German woman who makes jewelry and raises horses out in Rogue River. It made me feel at home to come to the same place every year. And the beauty of the area and the small town atmostphere make me wish it were home.


A Doe Says Good-Bye


Wandering The Butchart Gardens

Vancouver, British Columbia, July 2017

One of the best summer escapes from the heat of Sacramento is Vancouver Island and the city of Victoria, capital of British Columbia. A two-hour ferry ride from the mainland, Victoria is home to the 1897 neo-Baroque/Romanesque Revival Parliament Building, which faces out to the Inner Harbor. The building draws tourists to its wide green lawns, and is open to the public for limited tours. The city itself is small, but the downtown is vertically intense, unlike the surrounding residential neighborhoods. Coastal breezes keep the city cool. Lovely St. James Bay, a quiet neighborhood right on the tip, is where I spent a few days in the summer of 2017 in a wonderful Airbnb–a three-bedroom home that had been recently remodeled and beautifully decorated. (See Airbnb.com.)


Parliament Building, Victoria, Vancouver Island, B.C.

By far the best part of my stay was the day I spent at Butchart Gardens (www.butchartgardens.com), a 100-year-old-plus haven that lies north of Victoria on an inlet at the base of the island’s Saanich Peninsula. According to the pamphlet provided by the garden, the Butchart family came to the area in 1904 after Robert Butchart, who manufactured Portland cement, found plentiful deposits of vital limestone on the West Coast of Canada.

Butchart’s wife, Jennie, had seen a tea garden built by garden designer named Isaburo Kishida, and so had Kishida build a tea garden for her on the Butchart estate. Thus began the Butchart gardens, a 55-acre spread that became the product of her work and dreams. Her husband excavated limestone on the property, and when the quarry was depleted, it became the sunken garden, a large area below the main property, accessed by switchback-like stairs, and that now features lawns, planted areas full of flowers and shrubs, and a fountain that runs constantly, day and night, spouting in a pattern that resembles Fourth of July fireworks made of water.


Fountains in Sunken Garden

Within the sunken garden is one high, freestanding rock mound where spectators can sit and watch the fountain, which lies in the middle of Quarry Lake, go through its series of shoots and spirals that rise as high as 70 feet. I took several photos as the fountain went through its choregraphed dance.


Fireworks from the Fountain

But the Sunken Garden features more than the fountain. Like the upper area, it has separate planted areas full of colorful flowers and perennials that blend together like a symphony. Below you can see the planted areas lining the walkway that leads toward the fountain. The garden looks different in spring and fall, one of the wonderful things about this ever-changing planned landscape.


The Sunken Garden


Garden Close-Up

The combination of flowers and shrubs create a riot of color, especially in summer.


Black-Eyed Susans

Up above, there are various gardens with their own themes. One of my favorites was this wonderful pond and Dragon Fountain.


Dragon Fountain

Everywhere, the flowers are planted to enhance each other, and bloom together at the same time.


Flower Mix

The courtyard near what was the Butchart home–and now contains a restaurant, gelateria and other administrative buildings–features an Italian garden and pond surrounded by flowers and filled with water lilies and statues.


Italian Garden and Pond

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The Pond in the Italian Garden


Water Lilies

The upper level of the garden winds around, featuring various types of flowers and of course the Japanese garden. The moderate climate on Vancouver Island is hospitable to a wide variety of plants. The gardens provide visitors with a flower and plant guide that indicates the peak season for a large selection of the flora. At the far end of the garden, after you stroll through Kishida’s Japanese Garden, is Butchart Cove. There you’ll find a dock and boats that, during the summers, will take visitors on a ferry past the historic cement factory in the inlet.


Buchart Cove

The ferry (www.bcferries.com) that takes you back to the mainland and the city of Vancouver weaves through the smaller islands east of Vancouver island. The forested islands have a few large homes with docks along the coast, an enviable getaway for their owners.

The City of Vancouver is another must-see, though Victoria is first on my list. The neighborhoods south of the city make you think you are in Anywhere, America. There are beautiful brick homes, craftsman style homes, some modern homes, and in many neighborhoods, gentrification is occurring as housing becomes more expensive.

I stayed in Kitsilano Beach, in a fully remodeled three-story home, care of Airbnb and the kind owners. Downtown Vancouver was immense and fascinating, and the alley below was actually one of the most interesting off-the-beaten-path sites.

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Alley in Vancouver, B.C.