Saturday, April 26, 2008

This is a long drive for someone with nothing to think about.*

I woke up to sunshine and clear skies; it is a perfect day to drive up to the Skagit Valley to see the tulips while they are still in season. I drink my tea and eat my breakfast (ok, so I ate the last brownie from Wednesday's batch) and gather my things, wallet and keys and tissues, two digital cameras and my cell phone, a scarf and a jacket in case it gets cool. Not likely on such a beautiful day. It is just me and my car (which seldom gets driven these days) and the freeway ahead of me. The traffic is light, the music is good, the gas tank is full (after a gaspingly expensive fill-up before I set out), and even though I only have the vaguest idea of where I am going, I am not worried. I'll find the tulips. Or they will find me.

There is no traffic, just the freeway ahead, and I see familiar exits flash by as I drive on, farther than I have ever driven by myself before, the exit for my old high school, the exit for the ferry for Whidbey Island, the outlet mall where we go on our biannual shopping expeditions. Eventually I see signs for the tulip fields, and pull off towards the town of Conway, which sports various general stores and cafés and a pub and several antique stores. Little signs point the way to "Tulip Info" and I follow one into a sort of antiques/auction barn where a helpful woman highlights a free map and circles various fields. There are guided tours and helicopter rides and markets, and I thank her and head back out on the road. It is a beautiful drive, winding roads leading over wooded ridges and wide expanses of fields; a clear day means that I can see the Cascade mountains in the distance. I pass a grocery store attached to a little café, the shelves of the store filled with exotic canned foods and imported cookies and crackers, all sorts of things like smoked oysters and tinned pâtes and pasta in fancy shapes.

Large roadside stands proffer potted plants and organic fruits and vegetables and fresh seafood, but I press on. I pass an endless field of daffodils, from a distance a blur of dazzling yellow, and know that I am nearly there. Across the road from one of the main tulip fields is a nearly-empty parking lot, so I stop there instead of the crammed lot next to the field. And then the endless fields of tulips stretch before me, a sea of purple and pink and red flowers planted in neat rows that seem to stretch all the way to the mountains at the far end of the horizon. Knots of people pause to take pictures of each other kneeling between the rows of tulips; small children run around until they are told to pose adorably, shoulders just above the nodding heads of the flowers. I make my way clear across a patch of pink tulips before I reach the main path and notice the sign that says "PLEASE DO NOT WALK BETWEEN THE ROWS." Oops.

After I take about a hundred pictures of tulips from different angles, I head off to find some lunch, and wind up eating bread and soup at a little French bakery in Anacortes. I head to the wine shop recommended by the couple I sat with at the Lark Whole Beast dinner last week (it is owned by their son) and am immediately greeted with the offer of some Cava, which I decline because I still have to drive back to Seattle and my navigational skills are fuzzy even when unclouded by alcohol. This is a serious wine shop, stocked with a dizzying array of Washington state wines, as well as offerings from Oregon, California, France, and basically any place that produces wine. Or so it seems.

On the way back I stop at something called The Pie Barn. They have all kinds of pies, rhubarb and strawberry rhubarb and peach and apple and blueberry, baked and ready to go, or frozen for you to bake at home. But what I want is ice cream, chocolate brownie or lemon or Spumoni or Blackberry Revel or Huckleberry cheesecake. I am torn between the latter two, but the kind lady behind the counter advises that I go for the cheesecake. I choose that one, and she scoops a bit of the blackberry on top as well, so I can taste it. It is very good, but the cheesecake ice cream is better. After I finish my ice cream, it's time to head home. I get stuck in traffic, but it is a beautiful day and I have a pile of cds to listen to, and it is a long drive for someone with nothing to think about, which is not exactly true. I have plenty to think about, like how next time I will come earlier in the day, and figure out ahead of time where to have lunch so I don't wander around indecisively at two in the afternoon, but how it was a beautiful day, the perfect day for a long drive.

*with apologies to Modest Mouse for appropriating the title to one of their albums.

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