Right this minute, friends are traveling through France. I am excited for them—the vacation of a lifetime. They post photos of their adventures on Facebook so I’m following them across France: Paris, Cassis, Marseilles, geocaching in Aix-en-Provence!
I’m not much of a traveler myself. When my sweetheart asked where I’d like to go for my birthday, I gave the usual answer: nowhere. Then I reconsidered. We’ve been trying to get over to Crater Lake, a geographic wonder filled with the bluest water in the world. We have friends along the way, two of whom have birthdays on either side of mine so it would have been fun to celebrate my 70th with them.
The birthdays happen during the Pacific Northwest’s prime fire season. Like most animals, human or not, I don’t do well under smoke-filled skies. Still, I’d gotten a bit excited about a short vacation. Who wouldn’t? This would be our first, ever, alone-together, no-deadlines, event-free time off—kind of a mini honeymoon.
Back east, when I took vacations, I’d usually travel to Provincetown, Massachusetts. So did a lot of other gay people. I felt comfortable there holding another woman’s hand on the street. Often, of course, these destinations became zoos where non-gays could observe and mock our otherness, our mating rituals, our gloriously outrageous entertainers.
Things are different now. No need to seek out a gaycation destination. We decided to avoid the inland threats and travel down the coast. We went as far as the Redwood forests, turned all touristy, and visited The Trees of Mystery in Klamath, California. It was terrific G-rated nuclear-family-type fun—one of Mother Nature’s theme parks—even without gay compatriots around us, though I wondered about the two motorcycle guys in leather. I could have waggled my pinky ring at them, but they never looked our way. We felt safe holding hands everywhere on the grounds.
My favorite things about the Trees of Mystery were: the colossal trees (overawing), the gondola ride above the trees (which we did twice), hiking the easy trail (also twice), and learning life is good, even at age 70. I treated myself to a Three Musketeers Bar, my sweetheart had a Babe’s Blue Berry Frozen Daiquiri topped with whipped cream (named for Paul Bunyon’s Babe the Blue Ox). A perfect day.
By the time we returned to our motel my sweetheart had every symptom of the flu. I put her to bed and raced to Safeway for Dayquil, Nyquil, a thermometer and orange juice.
I suspect anyone fortunate enough to be able to take a vacation risks falling apart at the first incredible moment of breathing free. I know I have. After spending a big chunk of time working and taking care of home, dependents, bills, and every other detail of daily life, if you even hint to your body that it’s time to relax, beware. Your immune system may throw in the towel and let the rough-and-tumble germs stampede.
My sweetheart is a good sport. She wasn’t about to ruin our vacation or my birthday. The next morning she insisted on visiting the local farmers’ market with me. She sat in the car while I plunged into the excited energy of the noisy vendors and shoppers. I was looking for late melons and found my birthday present as well. It’s a red, handmade, oversized, slatted wood cat on wheels that wiggles as you pull it (pictured). I tried to pass it by. I only wanted it for decorative purposes, not to play with, honest. My sweetheart named her Clovis.
We went for a little ride off the main drag. Just followed our noses and ended up at a body of water called Dead Lake. Looked for live birds, saw middle-aged couples fishing (not everything was dead) and two homeless guys warming up on the boat launch dock. Found a small airport and watched a commuter plane land. Put my sweetheart back to bed and went looking for the hidden Shangri-La of a park I’d found years ago. It was impossibly overgrown and the dirt road had potholes the depth of Dead Lake. Guys were coming out of the brush with skateboards under their arms. Shangri-La no more.
Our long weekend went on like that. Lots of quirky surprises. Lots of sleeping for my sweetheart, lots of reading for me. Breakfasting on motel grub and the seeded baguette we brought from home. (Were our friends in France eating baguettes too?) Take out dinners from eateries recommended by locals. Long walks around the harbor for me, snapping photos as I went of dandied up trailer park spaces and surfers in the tame waves. Sitting at the open motel window watching the harbor, falling asleep to the music of barking harbor seals and a fog horn.
One day we drove on a fiendishly narrow gravel road through Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park where my sweetheart felt good enough to accompany me on my annual birthday walk over a bridge (all 60 steps of it). This bridge spanned a tributary of the gloriously wild Smith River.
We stopped at every park and Ranger station we passed. My sweetheart, on shaky legs, used a walking stick to gather maps and, our passion, post cards! I bought a souvenir mug. My sweetheart bought a souvenir watch cap. We found gifts for friends and family. We took more pictures, especially of old buildings and exotic manzanita trees. Such tourists we were!
We drove halfway home and stopped at another seaside town. My sweetheart had splurged on a room high above the ocean, which was prescient of her because the flu wasn’t about to let finish the trip in one day. As we approached the town we saw, then smelled, oily-looking yellow smoke roiling overhead like poisonous steam from a cauldron. We thought the smoke had reached us from the hot, dry east! But no, it was a 60 to 70 acre gorse fire just outside town, started by the backfire of an ATV on the dunes. Gorse burns ferociously and had once leveled that whole town. Our room escaped everything but the soggy smell.
We continued on home, our cooler filled with leftover take out, anxious to get the invalid into our own bed and rested. She was due at work in the morning. Our friends are posting pictures of Saint-Remy-de-Provence today, including Roman ruins and Van Gogh’s asylum. Our camera is filled with ghost signs on old West brick buildings. Lesbian vacations, as varied and quirky as lesbians.