Tiny Stories, Tiny Tales

Portland or The Power of a Tea Devotee

Portland Art Museum

I tossed my Tiny Travelogue to the side and succumbed to the pleasures of Portland, OR during my stay instead: roses, fountains in the parks, street food, Portland Art Museum, meeting new friends and catching up with a dear old ones, prowling through Powell’s Bookstore, riding the streetcars, and people watching all soaked up my days.

Portland surprised me with its impressive similarity to the Twin Cities back in Minnesota. Here were the same chill drivers, the same slower pace, the same type of architecture for single family houses, the same sort of river twisting through the middle of the city, and the same sort of friendliness. It was eerie—if weren’t for the backdrop of mountains, I could have sworn I was back in downtown Minneapolis or at other times, visiting my aunt’s neighborhood in St. Paul.

But Portland did deliver a note of randomness that the Twin Cities cannot encompass due its Midwest setting: Portland introduced me to the Power of True Tea Devotees. This came unexpected one morning when Jeff left early for a workshop and I ventured off to get breakfast on my own. I settled in at the hotel’s restaurant and ordered a pot of English Breakfast. The waiter brought my pot and gently inquired if I liked tea. I said I did and then he asked, “Loose leaf?” I replied, “Always.” He studied me for a second and then offered to bring out his own special brew of Zui Gui tea that he kept brewed in the back. I had no idea what Zui Gui tea was but I accepted. He hurried off and I wondered what I had gotten myself into but I enjoyed the idea of a hotel that allows its servers to keep their own special tea brews in the back.

He came back with a tiny pot and delicate glass cup. He poured the glass full and we breathed in the aroma together. It was a beautiful scent and I knew now I was committed. I was going to have to drink this cup—and I wasn’t entirely sure what that meant.

After we inhaled, he told me that Zui Gui Tea translates to Drunken Concubine Tea. It would help the heart meridian and settle any stress I was feeling. I studied his face after he said this. Was this man flirting (and if so, my god, this could be the number one way to flirt with a woman) or was he sharing the Power of a True Tea Devotee?

We talked in-between my meal and as he served other people. He told me about the different tea shops I could visit in Portland but emphasized one in particular called Fly Awake. It was a half an hour by bus from the hotel but it was well worth the visit. The owner would greet me when I’d arrive and inquire after my health. After I told the owner how I was doing, he would find the teas that would suite me best. And I would leave home with a taster of teas, all suited to my constitution.

I finished my breakfast and my Drunken Concubine Tea and thanked him for everything. He smiled and nodded; I left. I wasn’t entirely sure what had happened but one thing I knew for certain: Portland opened my eyes to the fact that I knew absolutely nothing about tea.

In the end, there wasn’t time enough to make it out to Fly Awake but the next time I get to Portland, that tea shop experience is at top of my list.

Stay Weird, Portland and may our Tea Adventures never end.

 

roses in Shemanski park, Portland, OR

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The Taste of Tea

A favorite film of mine, The Taste of Tea, centers on an eccentric family living in the Japanese countryside. They spend a great deal of time sitting outside, sipping tea and staring into space. They sit as a family, alone, or in a small group and no one talks. They just stare out into the deep green that is the summer. And then they get up and go on walks or go off to work.

The first time I watched The Taste of Tea, I was shaken and delighted that the film gave space and respect to one of my favorite pastimes: sipping tea and staring into space.

When spring grew warm enough, I was inspired by the film to sit outside and stare into my backyard in the early morning. The Taste of Tea had given me a sort of permission to leave stress behind and take this time for one of my deepest desires: to enjoy and contemplate nature while sipping tea.

I named my new practice “Sipping Tea and Watching the Grass Grow.” I felt ridiculous whenever I mentioned it to anyone but that hardly mattered. I was doing what I loved so much, watching plants grow, watching the birds and small animals moving through it all, and sky glowing blue and serene over us all.

 

Grass grows slowly, imperceptibly but after each rain, it leaps up by inches. The violets came in May and they lasted for weeks. After that the dandelions bloomed and I lost a little bit of my heart to them. The wind picked up their seeds and sent the white fluffs floating into the air in sweet, downy clouds. After that, small wild strawberries, glowing like fierce red gems, appeared in the lawn. Now at the end of June, a luxurious, emerald green covers nearly everything. It reaches up from the ground, covering fences and stones or it high overhead, green leaves moving in tall, imperceptible breezes.

 

The heat has settled in so now even in the mornings, I pour sweat while drinking my tea. On some mornings the birds are noisy and busy and on other days they are not. Sometimes a great big bumblebee comes tumbling along, droning in that low, hazy buzz as it investigates every surface and flower. And then sometimes it does not come. Some days the clouds are like fluffs of cotton, other days there isn’t a cloud in sight. Each day brings a new configuration, nature is never still. I watch it all and at other times, I close my eyes and listen to my breathing. I’m not alone, never alone, a part of a whole.

A Tale of Two Worlds

I walk past a window on my way to get a glass of water and note the snow falling outside.  As I fill my glass at the sink, my thoughts have already turned back to my work on the computer. I’m wrestling with the household budget, when I’ll fit some reading in, how to get on with my writing work, when I’ll exercise, when I’ll catch up with email correspondence and the list goes on and on.

Anytime I stop my work and look up, past the chatter in my mind, the snow catches me off guard as if it’s the first time I’m seeing it. I debate whether I can put off the grocery store to avoid driving in the snow.

This is the world of the everyday. It’s full of a thousand petty cares, some essential to living, others not as much but all in a lump group, tugging us along.

But there are times my mind needs something more refreshing, and it’s time to take a break. And that’s where music comes in—as powerful as Circe creating a circle of magic with her staff. I pick out music without words (or words I don’t understand). Today is Rimsky-Korsakov, tomorrow might be the film Phantom Thread’s soundtrack, or a piece of jazz played by Lucky Thompson.

As Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Snow Maiden starts, the circle opens. I come out of the everyday world and enter somewhere extraordinary, where beauty converges with life and cares and worries exit for a time. And all it takes is a little music, a little snow, and entering the moment that is now.

I watch the snow falling, noting the wind direction as the snow blows southeast and then drops and then exhales again southwards. I note the density of the snow, how it’s light and sparkling and then downy, heavy, and wet.  My thoughts finally still and I turn off the music. A heavy relief passes over my body and mind and I am still, watching the beauty of the world.