16. Planet Rosehip

  1. 01. Minutes of the COCKUP
  2. 02. A Public Service
  3. 03. The 22% Solution
  4. 04. On The Campaign Trail
  5. 05. Athens of America
  6. 06. A Yankee’s Yankee
  7. 07. My Canadian Family
  8. 08. Edmonton? Why?
  9. 09. Prairie Singers
  10. 10. Deconstructing Calgary
  11. 11. My Kelowna
  12. 12. Wine Whine
  13. 13. Fire Mountain
  14. 14. A Stopover and a Popover
  15. 15. Inspiring Victoria
  16. 16. Planet Rosehip
  17. 17. Carry On Grunge
  18. 18. Street People
  19. 19. The Curse of Portland
  20. 20. Mean-Spirited, Powerful Justice
  21. 21. Amtrak’s Jewel
  22. 22. Managing Yosemite
  23. 23. Yumpin’ Yosemite
  24. 24. Parched
  25. 25. Brave New San Fran
  26. 26. Over The Hill
  27. 27. Greatest Again

There’s no easy way to get into the USA these days. Even as a US citizen. Even from Canada, which does its utmost to expedite the process of getting rid of us by importing and housing large flocks of US Customs officials at its airports and other gateways.

We had done our best to find a pleasant way of fleeing the Polite North by booking on the high-speed Victoria Clipper for a three hour ferry ride to downtown Seattle. After walking a mile to the wharf with our wheelie bags noisily jostling behind, I was disappointed to find the customs line-up started a hundred meters outside the building before snaking another hundred inside. At least it was a pleasant and sunny day. Standing in the rain would have sucked.

As the line grew another hundred meters longer behind us I began to wonder why we weren’t moving. Nearby, three police officers in navy blue uniforms finished their cigarettes and snuffed them out. As they passed I could see they weren’t police officers at all, but US Customs officials. They entered the building, and shortly thereafter the line started to move.

There are tactics that make getting into the USA easier, if not easy. For example, don’t be the first person ever to answer “yes” to the customs declaration form question “have you visited a farm/ranch/pasture outside the United States?” (Australia has a similar, even vaguer customs declaration form question “have you visited a rural area…in the past 30 days?”) My grandfather, a US Customs Official, often told me “There’s no appeal from a US Customs Official decision.” That is nonsense; Grandpa was prone to exaggeration. A customs officer cannot shoot you dead without repercussion; that is a privilege reserved for the police in certain American municipalities. But I took his point: there’s nothing to be gained by making things difficult for the customs. Thus it conveniently slipped my mind that I had visited a farm, perhaps subconsciously rationalising that I had never left pavement. I am no farmer.

Any fool can make a mockery of US border protections, as Donald Trump has demonstrated in recent times. He promised “I will build a great, great wall”, revealing himself to be of the “good fences make good neighbors” school that fails to comprehend Robert Frost’s irony. There’d be roughly three hundred million Americans inside those great, great walls, leaving seven billion great, great neighbours outside. Annually over $4,000 per American man, woman and child is spent on the military to keep the others out. That works out to about $200 per year for every human being on the planet. Very few issues inspire unanimous agreement in America these days, but everyone seems to agree that this approach has not been working very well.

My fourteenth campaign pledge: Everyone has to take a refresher course on the great empires of history that crumbled after bankrupting themselves in the name of “defending their borders”, which is all of them.

IMG_1343The Clipper was punctual, clean and comfortable, with impressively excellent on-board services. There was nothing high-speed about getting on or off the boat, though, with baggage drop-off, pick-up, and Customs clearance adding an hour on each end of the journey. IMG_1357After debarking in Seattle, we passengers waited patiently while more than dozen large baggage containers were perilously craned over our heads.

Onshore, we immediately set out to depart Seattle for Whidbey Island. Another mile walk preceded the rental car pick up, and in no time we had joined the Great American Pastime of sitting at a standstill in traffic on Interstate 5 North. I was grateful to be doing the half-hour drive to Mukilteo on a Monday afternoon in relatively light traffic, as it took only slightly over an hour to join the queue for the ferry across to Clinton on Whidbey Island.

Car ferries are an everyday thing to many that live near the Puget Sound. Judging by the road signs, it is not unusual for the queue to back up several miles. There’s a fair bit of unspoken etiquette about the queuing process, etiquette the daily commuters assume everyone else knows. We got one fist shaken at us for an offensive lane-change, but our transgression was forgiven after an apologetic wave and shrugged smile. IMG_1370Good thing, too, because we ended up parked right next to the fist-shaker, waiting for the ferry. A sign warned that assaults would be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, suggesting that not all disputes ended so amicably.

We had to wait in the queue for the third ferry, about forty minutes. IMG_1390One of my many eccentricities is that when travelling and bored, I take note of the local names on portable toilets. Understandably enough, those who rent portable toilets most often do not want their name festooned over hundreds of shitholes. The resulting flourishes of euphemistic creativity are most entertaining. Here are some examples:

  • Porta-pottyIMG_1366
  • Porta-loo
  • Comfort Castle
  • Johnny-on-the-spot
  • Spiffy Biff
  • Heeeere’s Johnny!
  • Jon’s Jons (notably of Flushing, Ohio)
  • Happy Cans
  • Drop Zone
  • Best Seat In The HouseIMG_1363
  • Plop Jon
  • Ameri-Cans
  • Loader-Up
  • Royal Throne
  • Tanks Alot
  • Wizards of Ooze
  • Gotta Go’s
  • Willy Make It
  • Doodie Calls

There beside us was my all-time favourite portable toilet brand, found only in the Seattle region: Honey Bucket. The name makes me shudder every time I see it.

On the short ferry ride I relaxed by leafing through some local tourist brochures. They had the usual categories: hotels, restaurants, tours, museums, cannabis dispensaries, theaters, bicycle rentals – um, wait a minute, did that say cannabis dispensaries? Sure enough, four or five advertisers described the quality and value of their weed offering. I was aware that the Great State of Washington had recently legalized the sale of marijuana; nevertheless, seeing it advertised was most peculiar. It was like I had entered another world.

Off the ferry and onto the island, we barreled north to Coupeville where friends Valerie and Linda own and run a place called Rosehip Farm. IMG_1409Linda and Valerie cooked up a spectacular dinner, most of it grown on the premises, the meal’s centerpiece being a luscious roast pork of local provenance.IMG_1406 IMG_1402Over dinner the conversation turned to their recent wedding, a marriage legally recognized in consequence of the US Supreme Court’s landmark decision. They had hosted the nuptials on site, serving the banquet in the barn, followed a by a hoe down of considerable duration. They painted a vivid and inspiring picture of a traditional farming community joyfully gathering to celebrate the union of their lesbian brethren. It was like I had entered another world.

IMG_1426IMG_1424In the morning, Valerie took us on a hike on the bluffs of Ebey’s Landing, a nearby National Park overlooking the Puget Sound offering tremendous vistas. IMG_1437




IMG_1455Then we got a tour of the farIMG_1498m. IMG_1469IMG_1490We met the farm hands, IMG_1414young interns who toiled hard to learn the ins-and-outs of organic farming in return for room, board, and a reasonable stipend, an arrangement they appeared quite happy with. As we walked the grounds, from time to time Valerie would pick something off a bush or pull something out of the ground, and suggest that I eat it. IMG_1474Valerie is not one to be trifled with, so I complied, casting my concern for squirrel urine (or worse) to the wind. I lived. In fact, I was impressed by the tastiness of all manner of their earthy crunchy everything-free organic produce, all of it arguably as food “was meant to be”. Certainly I was not about to argue the contrary. IMG_1486As I said, I am no farmer. It was like I had entered another world.






Soon enough – too soon, really – it was time to head back to Seattle. We timed the return ferry perfectly, as if the car never stopped. That is, until we got off the ferry, when we soon found ourselves sitting at a standstill in traffic on Interstate 5 South.

It was like – Earth.