*July 9, 2013*
Today was my first day back in Eugene, and the first place I’ve left and returned to since I’ve embarked on this journey. People have asked me what I like about the places I’ve been to and which I like most, and when I talk about Eugene, it feels like everything. I spent most of the day working on cleaning/organizing projects, which admittedly made me feel productive and relaxed, giving me a kind of a settling in feeling, but I decided I needed to go for a walk during the cooling evening-into-dusk hours to separate myself from the projects I had been entrenched in and the still, hot air that shrouded the inside. I needed the fresh air and would hopefully find some writing inspiration and clarity along the way.
It was a beautiful evening. A quiet Tuesday where most people are laying low amidst the work week, or attempting to let the hot weather ride itself out; either way, there wasn’t much going on. I easily floated back to previous walks through the neighborhood with my tour guide the last time I was there, occasionally remembering a moment with such a crispness that it made me question that it had occurred over three weeks ago. What do I love about Eugene…
Well, the neighborhood for one. The houses around this neighborhood are brightly colored and wildly adorned, expressing a variety of characters and personality types. There’s the rebels’ house, with signs all over their large porch stating sentiments of rebellion and providing a space for the new-age beatniks to gather. Today’s signs read “you can’t fix stupid,” and “This is not the hostel. This is the bat cave.” I missed my chance to take a photo while the porch was still empty, and by the time I had returned, it had filled with it’s nightly crew, this time of about ten. A couple houses beyond that, there’s the “G” house, with signs proclaiming the “G-spot” and what looks like an old barbershop seating area on it’s spot on the sidewalk. There are houses of every color, with varying shades and hues, from nearly neon and geometric to deep and mystical; knowing how much I love color in and on houses, this place is like a rainbow climax of an ocular orgasm.
I stopped by a little shop that advertised “scoops and soups café,” and hoping I might be able to find some sort of non-dairy frozen creamy dessert (it is Oregon after all), I wandered in. Another reason I love Oregon, and particularly Eugene, is the food! I had found a locally-source, locally-made, vegan, organic ice cream and waffle shop, and it turns out this is one of many. Not only were there regular ice creams, but they also had lactose-free options, and an equally sized case for vegan, paleo, and sugar free choices. Despite the three people in front of me, it took some very concentrated effort for me to settle on a decision. I finally decided on an irresistible mix of vegan, sugar-free coffee and vegan vanilla bean in one of their homemade waffle cones; satisfying both in taste and it’s lack of dairy and sugar. (Turns out as we moved into a hotter and hotter month of July, the lack of dairy and sugar would evolve into great validation for me to get these delicious vegan ice creams probably more often than I really needed!)
I continued to wander around this small enclave and kept noticing all the little things that make me love this area. In front of one house, the fence had been painted with natural scenes, which were framed by various flags of the world (flags are right up at the top with maps of random things I love!) Less than a block further, a small sign had been painted and hung on a street post, just above the street signs, that read, “Don’t give up.” What an encouraging little piece of street art, with no agenda other than to state it! I also found another sign on a street post that read “Grow Food. Learn How.” This one was on a street post next to an incredible mural that I’ve often walked by, continually assessing in an attempt to fully grasp the layers of meaning that have been heaped on to the fantastically painted wall.
As I continued to wander, I walked by the bakery/café that had been my first stop when I rolled into town weeks ago. The very artesian, rustic décor inside makes me feel like I’m stopping in at a local farm’s backyard café, and the menu reflected the same wholesome characteristics. I had eaten here multiple times on my last visit, and every time the food was wonderfully affordable (especially for it’s quality), deliciously flavorful, and perfectly satiating (for the most part, their portions are ideally sized, not too small but not overwhelmingly large). Outside the restaurant, the bulk of it’s vertical ‘canvas’ exterior is covered from head-to-toe in murals, or rather a mural, that transitions scenes, covering the range of day/night (or the seasons), and the colors that might be found in such a spectrum. The tall wrought-iron fences that frame it’s patio space provide waffled walls for the ivy to climb, creating an enclosed area that turns into a farmer’s market on Sundays (which had been taking place on my very first visit, instantly affirming some of the ideas I’d had about Oregon/Eugene).
I started making my way to the Red Barn, a small local grocery store, reminiscent of the same wholesome, earthy roots I had felt inside the bakery. Literally in a small red barn, this little neighborhood store is an extremely scaled down and direct version of other natural/health food stores; providing all of the essentials one might need – about half of the store is produce, the other half has great healthy choices, vegan/gluten-free options, natural beauty products, etc . I shopped for some fresh produce, most of which was very locally sourced, and a few other items, which I was able to easily find and affordably pay for.
As I walked out the door of Red Barn, my nose was forcefully reacquainted with the wet cereal smell that wafted from the Ninkasi Brewery – a local brewery which has recently been expanding. Walking by the brewery, I noticed the three grand silver canisters rising towards the sky, and to the right, the taphouse glowed, lit by the electric green lights that emphasized the glass, iron, and metal, embellished with their signature logo. All in all, the place looked more like a cross between a modern bat cave and the Emerald City of Oz than a brewery. I may not be much of a beer drinker, but I must say the beer I’ve tried here has been pretty darn tasty, and I definitely don’t mind the aromas they contribute to the neighborhood air. Down the street, I walked past the music house, which, though their musical inclinations don’t quite fit my tastes, the consistent hummm that drums from the inside of their walls reminds me of all of the artistically inclined residents of Eugene.
Stopping by the hostel on my way back home, I again noticed the delightful art on the building I had stayed in last time, and as I slowly wandered back, I noticed many more houses decorated to the owner’s tastes and my delight. Generally, the buildings around here, whether it’s a home, business, fence, or street post, all seem to be considered a canvas, prime for painting and random decor. The options for food range in variety, but all seem to be focused on being health-conscious, alternative diet supporting (a little heaven of options for vegans and gluten-free eaters), uncompromisingly delicious, and shockingly affordable. And even when the streets are quiet and the people are out of sight, the character of the neighborhood still proudly states it’s unique weirdness. On this particular evening, as my senses of sight, smell, taste, and sound were engaged, the neighborhoods, the art, and the food registered as some of the top reasons I love Oregon, and particularly Eugene.
Stories from the road-trip that inspired moving to the PNW, and other travel adventures.