Art by Tom Swanson

Piece Love and Chocolate

I hung out in the Boulder area trying to rehab my neck and get over the last part of the my fever.  On occasion my back would prickle with a thousand points of heat from the dengue’s rash, reminding me that the virus was still hanging around.  By night, I slept on an inflatable camping pad and piece of memory foam in my brother’s basement art studio in the nearby town of Lyons.  During the day I was going to Boulder for an average of 10 hours and staying busy:  I joined a gym and lived out of my small back-pack as I’ve done many times in the past…  Computer, water, jumprope and running shoes, a change of clothes, some protein powder and peanut butter, etc.  It was all in there and I alternated between getting my body back to shape and taking time to re-enter the business world.

Boulder has a nice walking mall lined with shops and restaurants.  It’s a-buzz with energy in the summer.  Each block has various buskers doing their thing:   You might see a duo of hipsters in in their 20’s dressing in old-time clothes singing ragtime tunes from the early part of the last century.  The guy might sport a waxed mustache, suspenders and steel guitar, and the woman a simple flower print dress with leather boots on a banjo.  Someone’s dragged out a full-size piano one day.  There’s a juggler on a huge unicycle juggling fire.  Less talented individuals with less initiative hold signs that might read “Fuck you Pay me” or “Too ugly to be a stripper”; I’ve seen the latter too many times to consider it imaginative anymore.  One guy with a clown nose and somewhat imaginative sign caught my eye.  I thought it would be courteous to asking if I could take his pic instead of just snapping it.  He responded with a cold, “one dollar”.  Not my dollar.  Many of the buskers suggested $10…  10!  It is Boulder after all.  The more expert of the performers snag strategic locales and announced their show as they warm up; crowds of up to 100 people gather in a circle and get roped into the action.  When crowds are more sparse the performers occasionally called after me and commented on my bravery for that day’s shirt choice – Mr Bubble or the Anti brand ice cream shirt.   One busker referred to me as Captain America as the onlookers laughed.  Grateful for their compliments, I waved to the crowd and continued on my way.  There were some killer performances worth stopping for.  I hope street art is never lost from the world.  Some of these people have no other job for part/all of the year and it reminds me to honor the path of people who have no use for a corporate world.  


This guy was 100% carnie and he owned the crowd


He had a bit of a potty mouth but was funny as hell and no one was offended.  He solicited weed openly (it’s legal in CO)


He broke the show into trick sections with a whistle


juggling fire under the leg on an 10′ unicycle…

IMG_1803 Piece Love & Chocolate:  I found it.  As I walked up to the top of the walking-mall one day where the performers petered out and cars shared the street, I noticed a funky place on my right.  I stepped in and was engulfed in a fairytale world of color – streamers and whatnots coming down from the ceiling, a bright dry-erase board, and just enough space to walk between a couple of tiny tables and the chocolate that filled the place.  Front to back, wall-to-wall chocolate.  Piece Love and Chocolate is overwhelming.  The shop’s name is spot on imo but it must be experienced to be understood.  They are chocolatiers and bakers as well as sellers of fine chocolate from around the world.   I’ve never seen so many types of truffles and bars and baked chocolate goods in my life.  The bars they sell from other chocolatiers are sourced world-wide and are akin to fine wine in their subtleties.   Flipping the bars over, it was normal to find prices over $10.   There had one consistent impulse-buy at the counter:  The bacon maple truffle.   It was good, but at $2.50 for what was essentially a single bite, I decided to experiment with other delicacies when I returned. And I did return.  I made it a habit to be there.  In fact, after slurping down a very healthy post-workout shake, I’d make my way over from the gym and feed my muscles with other, tastier sugars.  One of my faves was a hybrid between a pecan bar/pie and a brownie, the pecan chocolate brownie.  You got the best of both treats in one with an extra bit of saltiness.


The last of my plans faded as the weekend for the Contour Festival came and went.  When I’d been to Oregon the previous week, I’d met a new friend and she was going to fly down to Denver.  We’d take a road trip to back up to OR.  Ultimately it would mean I’d have to drive the car back to CO and drop it at my brother’s. It sounded a little hectic for me but the summer was gorgeous and we’d pass through mountain states all the way back.  It was worth a try.  But she cancelled the flight last minute.   So, after a little debate, I booked a flight back up to PDX where I’d been just a week before.  I had a power meeting on Friday, June 12 and was giving up hope of making it 10 hours to Jackson Hole for the Polish Ambassador’s set.  The meeting was fruitful – a solid 5 hours of giving birth to a new business venture.  It was intense and added to the sense that I was doing about as much as I could handle.  Mixed messages with my new friend and a feeling that I wasn’t even settled into CO or the US led me to call Morgan the day before my flight to say I couldn’t do it.  My return to the US had taken enough detours already.  Travel days in airports and rental cars, some late nights with friends, burying Mango, more airports, hotels, and shuttles…  Lots to be thankful in there, yes, for but it felt a little too rockstar; I felt like I was going 500mph when I should just get over the dengue and grounding myself somewhere.  My friend reassured me that she wanted me there.  I got on the plane like a rockstar and wished I could snort some xanax.  

Swept up from the arrivals area, Morgan drove me to a northeast portland neighborhood and we landed at her cute and very tiny cottage.  It was an old, converted one car garage but big enough for a shower and a nap.  A head on my chest, fingers running lovingly through my hair:  This is what I care about more than anything.  This is real wealth.  

A drive to the Clackamas River in the afternoon made me recall that Oregonians have a different tolerance for water temperature.  The river flowed out of mountain valleys fed partially by snowmelt.  Unless there’s a hot springs next to it, cold water isn’t my thing; I waded up to my knees then came back and laid on the stony bank while people endured (and enjoyed) the chilly water.  The sky was very clear but the sun already getting low. We made our way back to the city for dinner; Portland is one of the most hopping cities in the US and it’s full of restaurants and food carts so we had our choice of spots when that evening.  Indian food…  Something Costa Rica doesn’t have.

We headed for the mountains late the next day, driving up a river valley, deeper and deeper into the National Forests that comprise a lot of the western third of the state.  The weather was perfect and the air was so clear I doubted there were forest fires yet.  We didn’t have a plan exactly, just some ideas and camping gear.  The location for camping was in doubt so we pulled over and checked a couple of spots once we’d gotten well into the winding valley.   We pushed on when there wasn’t anything that inspired us.  Summer solstice was upon us and even in the mountains the light would last until 9:30.  The light was a big change from Centro where day does from 5:30am to 6pm every day regardless of the season.  A National Forest campground announced itself with a large sign and we pulled in to explore the large, maze-like place.  The trees were large and there was a river IMG_1587nearby so we called it good. IMG_1586 My friend wanted a cold dip in the river so we headed down, making our way through the ferns and undergrowth to a bank on the wide but shallow river.  We looked about to see if anyone was near and then she stripped. The water was cold and I had little interest in it.  Watching Morgan move out to a pool in deeper water, I felt inspiration and gratitude that I had the amazing fortune to be in that spot.  I was alive…  That was the thought that came through.  I thought about Mango.  He was gone but he would have loved this place and enjoyed every aspect of it.  Dogs are great teachers.  I stripped and came in, finding a spot behind a large rock where I stood up to my stomach in the cold river.  My hands in prayer at my brow, long moments passed as I dedicated my plunge to Mango dog and my new friend, thankful that both had shown me the way.  I took a breath and dipped slightly then thought better of it.  Morgan and I laughed.  I gathered myself again and went under.  I came up sucking air and stumbled once on the slippery rocks.  It was a shock but I decided to make my way out slowly instead of running from the cold.


The night was kind and we moved on in the morning as weekenders started to fill in the spots near us.  We pointed the car for Breitenbush Hotsprings.  I knew a spot on dead end double-track to park and set up camp; the retreat center was nearby but we didn’t have reservations and it was closed for Solstice celebrations.  Our spot was in an old-growth Douglas fir stand with trees in the range of 300-400 years old and 80 meters tall.  the lower branches of this species fall off shaded so the effect is a high canopy that began at maybe 30 meters in our spot.   Ferns and other shrubs filled the cool, shady ground while a few vine maple reached up 5 meters.  We hoped to get into Breitenbush through an acquaintance, so we drove over to look for him.  The parking lot was filled with people arriving and getting oriented.  As soon as we walked in, I saw my old roommate Christina who I thought had left her job here months ago.  She was back for the weekend and invited us as guests the next day; seeing her there was perfect timing.  We headed for a trail that wound it’s way directly out of the retreat center’s driveway.  

Devil’s Peak was supposed to be a challenging hike according the man who’d told us about it recently.  It was a 5 hour round trip, he’d said.  But Morgan was half his age and I thought I was in decent shape.  I’d seen the trail on the map many times but neither Morgan nor I seemed to believe it would be very hard for us.  We packed only a couple of energy bars, some recovery drink and water, along with a jacket for each of us in case the weather changed fast the way it sometimes does in the mountains.  But the day was perfect again – like a postcard.  Morgan trotted off as I warmed up.  10 minutes later I began a slow jog up the wide, soft trail.   The ground was dry and spongy, literally springing as my feet fell on it.  Soils in the forests of the pacific northwest are among the most biologically active and diverse in the world – much more alive than rainforest soils in the Amazon where most decomposition occurs above ground.  I pulled off the trail to look at a creek or take photos from time to time, then trotted on and caught up to Morgan at a log bridge.  We did some #literal yoga: bridge pose on the bridge, then headed from there into the steeper IMG_1653IMG_1664sections of the trail.
We walked together at times or met at a vista or some other logical stopping point.  The vistas got better and the trail got steeper (in spots).  Each time I thought we were close to the top it proved to be a false summit.  Once, when I felt sure we were at the top, Morgan disappeared along what turned out to be nothing more than a ridge preceding another section of trail.  I think we were both getting pretty tired and I laughed that we’d thought this would be a cake-walk.  It was turning into a mission.



one of my first experiments with the panoramic features on the iphone…just never really knew it was there


 Eventually we did make it to the top.  As I looked out over a sea of forest, Morgan disappeared again.  She called out and I made my way to where I could see her; there was a narrow ridge terminating at a rock outcropping. This perch stuck out into the air above a large valley, a snowy mountain nearby to the southeast.  It was dramatic and served as a great climax to the journey. We stayed for a long while, eating and drinking much of what remained in the pack, taking pictures, and lounging in the cool air.  I didn’t want to leave.  But it had already been a long day, so we headed back.IMG_1670




Glaciers on one of the high Cascades, a younger volcano, as viewed from the older, more weathered western Cascades

Morgan’s knee was giving her serious pain on the downhill so I carried her piggyback from time to time. Downhill trail running is one of my favorite things to do; I would occasionally run off when my back was unoccupied.  It was a long time before we got near the bottom but as we neared the end of the trail we pulled off to soak in a cold stream and bring our swelling down.  After grabbing a few things from camp and headed for dinner in Detroit.  The choices were lean; we drove the 100 meter strip which defined the town then walked into a place or two.  It wasn’t organic but it got the job done; we were knackered and went home to our spot above the river, under the big trees.



Nearing the end of the trail.  So many good moments

Nearing the end of the trail. So many good moments

The next day was spent at the hotsprings.  My brother Mike told me before I left for OR that I get a magical look in my eyes when I mention the place.  I believe it.  Big trees, water in it’s various forms

IMG_1733 from steam to snow and ice, spaces for yoga, community, and meditation, and no connection to the grid of electricity and communications.  Sun, moon, stars.  We lounged in the cold river and made cairns during the heat of the day, eating an organic chocolate bar and drinking a little.  Lunch was served and I took advantage of one of the finest things about the United states:  Big, organic salads.  Sometimes the main dishes at BBush are just the quintessential hippy, granola garbage.  Safer to stay with the salad than get gutbomb from the nutloaf.



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