Friday, December 22, 2006

Noel in the Northwest

Coming home for Christmas is always important to me, and this year has been no different. Actually the Christmas season this year was a much anticipated sanctuary and oasis from what has been a very frustrating and trying year from a work perspective. Even with all of its trials and tribulations, the year ended on an up-beat note in early December just before I departed back to the US, when I was informed that I would be receiving a promotion and given the opportunity to take on a new role which I had been working extremely hard to get. This accomplishment felt like vindication for having survived the year and for having the staying power to make things work. It also seemed to validate my own efforts and confirm that at least a few people saw value and potential in what I was trying to accomplish. So I boarded the plane on my way back home with a definite spring in my step and a bode of confidence that the new year would be full of new beginnings.

Christmas break this year has included some fun side trips to some essential destinations within the beautiful Pacific Northwest. Most people I have found around the world know Seattle, Washington, as that place where Dr. Frasier Crane lived. I never have the heart to tell these folks that the hit show was actually filmed on a sound stage in Los Angeles. The real Seattle is far more interesting than the ever ubiquitous Starbucks which seem to be present on practically every one of its city blocks. Seattle is after all the birthplace of Starbucks, but they have run out of real estate I believe to build any more there.

Many people also know the Emerald City (Seattle's nickname) as the place where Tom Hanks spent many a sleepless nights, but for me Seattle means Pike Place Market with all of its local vendors and fish markets hawking their local treats and catches. There is nothing like crouching up to a counter seat at the Athenian Inn, one of the market's most famous seafood restaurants, and ordering up some piping hot Clam Chowder. Even Tom himself ate there while filming his famous movie. It is a treat to not be missed.

Seattle also means the Space Needle which is a remnant of the 1962 World's Fair. It has become the de-facto icon which immediately identifies the city amongst others and sends its skyline into the future. From atop the Space Needle you can take in the entire city, Elliot Bay, Lake Union, and on a clear day the over 15,000 foot peak of Mt. Rainier. The streets of Seattle are hilly and similar to those of San Francisco, but the place remains a great walking town. It was just before Christmas however, so the shops were bursting with holiday shoppers. It felt so magical to once again dawn a heavy coat and gloves and feel the crispness of the winter air. These are simple and seasonal Pacific Northwest pleasures taken for granted until one moves to the Asian tropics.

Back home to Oregon meant an opportunity to scrape the rust off of my snowboarding skills and head for the slopes of Mt. Hood, which is Oregon's tallest mountain. I was honestly worried if I would remember how to snowboard, as it had been close to three years since my last trip down the slopes, but to my relief snowboarding turned out to be like riding a bike, and everything came rushing back. The exhilarating feeling of whisking down the slopes was a completely different sensation than wakeboarding. During the time away from snowboarding, I forgot about the floating sensation that the sport gives you. The conditions were perfect, as a fresh coat of powdery new snow had fallen the night before and the sun was out in full force after numerous days without an appearance.

Looking down from the top of the slope, one could see the trees shimmering with their fresh coats of snow. The air was so fresh and clear, you could even see Oregon's second tallest peak, Mt. Jefferson, in the distance which was over 50 miles away. As I carved my board in and out with each turn, I was slowly putting all of the baggage of 2006 out of my mind and concentrating on nothing but the pure bliss of fresh powder and the wonderful scenery. Down at the end of the run, it was time to jump on the chair lift on your way back up to the top. From the chair lift, it looked like a winter wonderland. From your moving perch heading to the top, one felt as if they were on the roof-top of the world looking out for days.

Oregon is rich with diversity in its geography. From snowy mountain slopes, it is only a couple hours drive to the beaches of the Pacific Ocean. Heading in the opposite direction, one can find the expansive wheat fields of Central Oregon where my parents live, where the closest neighbor can be at least a mile away and the average town has a population of just over 400 people. In this part of the state, coyotes can be found, although not always alive when encountered upon by a local farmer who doesn't take kindly to the predator's penchant for feasting on livestock. Friendlier animals, like colorful ducks can be found taking advantage of a hearty meal to help them endure the chilly climate.

The holiday has shaped up to be a wonderful break away from the stress and strain of work. Reconnecting with friends, seeing family, and reorienting myself with places I had long taken for granted has been a great experience. I for one am excited to bring in 2007 with all of the promise and excitement that starting anew brings. I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and all the best in the New Year.