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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Tides of Snow and Ice

This winter has been a continuous series of freezes and thaws: it’s the warmest winter on record, the tenth one in a row. A more usual winter starts with a deep freeze and then stays cold for months. Instead, snow falls, piles up and vanishes; rises up again and retreats, now falling as rain, swelling rivers and creeks. Rain and snow mingle together until everything runs with water; hillsides and flat-sides are coated in a deep, dark mud.

I stopped on my walk today, halted by a sudden flash of gold. The sunset rays were falling into a tiny puddle spanning the space between the root and trunk of a maple. The puddle reflected gold and silver on top and below was dark mud, black and brown, full of microorganisms and other tiny creatures unseen by the human eye. I briefly considered putting my hand to the shining surface. It beckoned, winking like a diamond, but pull of my walk was irresistible and I continued forward. 

Mud is for March and April, mud so thick and heavy that it can pull shoes off and make them disappear like a magic trick beneath the solemn and still brown. Mud in February is a strange slight, an awakening that shouldn’t be occurring yet. It’s all the more cruel because even though the temperatures rise, they inevitably dip into the single digits and everything freezes solid. Many times I’ve spotted squirrels and tiny birds on the creek’s ice, searching for openings to drink from.

During this particular thaw, the creek casts off ice, it’s center opening like a dark cut. The water sings as it cascades over the rocks, proclaiming it’s momentarily relief from the grip of winter. In Scandinavian folklore, there is a belief that given the proper offerings, a creek could teach a human how to play the most bewitching music. I crouch down near the creek, record a video of it singing on my phone and replay its music in the evening while lying on the couch. I should give something in return for the pleasure of its song and I consider. Perhaps some lavender buds I have stored away for a certain recipe, or a small pinecone I keep on a shelf to admire, or birch bark I retrieved from a favorite tree cut down years ago. 

The next day I return, and after waiting for a few dogs and their owners to pass by, I crouch next the side of the creek and sprinkle lavender buds into the small, clear stream. The buds vanish as soon as I drop them into the water– as if they never existed. I drop some more in and the same occurs; they’re gone before I can blink. The current flows by, washing over stones, fleeting by banks of mud, until it vanishes around the bend where the pine trees tower overhead.

As I gaze at the water, first downstream and then upstream, my own self quiets, stills, and momentarily dissolves into the landscape. The relief, though short, is palpable. Alone becomes together and perhaps that is what’s this practice of thanking the creek has been about all along.

Winter in the Time of Climate Change

There is a stream near my home and I walk along it nearly every day; I know its moods and seasons nearly as well as I know my own. We are family and our connections are pure: we’re both made of water.

Every day brings more distressing news about the environment. Big changes need to happen but whatever change that does happen is so slow. Global warming is now being felt by everyone, some more than others. I go out and walk along the stream when the news and all the unfortunate future unknowns press in too hard. Right now, it is running fast. This winter has been a series of freezes and thaws. November hit hard with a heavy, deep freeze and I expected this to lead to a  white Christmas but instead, it’s been a muddy, wet winter, full of more temperate days than frosty ones. The thermometer rides up and down, every day propelled by a bouncing ball rather than a steady progression of tiny fluctuations.

The stream locks and then unlocks. It accepts each freeze and thaw with inestimable grace. After reading the news, it is hard to know what is near or far, here and up in the sky, in the mind or in the present moment. But the stream is always present, it knows no other moment. It lives in eternity; as David Hockney said, “It’s always now. It’s now that’s eternal.”

The creek is still here, I think to myself whenever I see it, it is still living. It runs forward through this strange January, sometimes under the ice and sometimes not. Patches of green moss dot the banks nearby, beyond that the nearby plants are broken, brown, and dried. They are asleep, listening to things I cannot hear, dreaming of things I barely know of.