Woolf Conference, 4: The Journey (Kelp)

Amtrak was ninety minutes late pulling out of Seattle, so I went to Uwajimaya and got myself a little sushi box and some wasabi peas. The train ride down made up for the delay: the tracks run right along the water from Tacoma down to the southernmost bit of Puget Sound.

Every time I come home, there is a moment when I experience the sublime. I feel a little involuntary gasp of intense pleasure and then think, automatically, why did I ever leave this beautiful, blessed spot of earth? It used to come when the plane landed: I would arrive home from college teary-eyed. Recently, I got it on I-5, headed South, just before the Roanoke Exit (magical words for me), with the Olympics to my right behind Queen Anne (a beloved hill for embarrassingly vain reasons, alas), the Cascades to my left behind Montlake, the lovely Capitol Hill rising before me, a glimpse of Puget Sound and the Space Needle and a peekaboo view of Mount Rainier: the best sight in the world, I think.

This time, however, it was kelp. Humble kelp. An enormous tangle of the monstrous brown stuff lay in the shallow water just outside my train window. How I love the sight.

We pulled into Portland at 4:00. It was sunny and 70 degrees. The baby-faced conductor welcomed us to “The City of Roses” and my seat companion, an elderly gentleman who had graduated from Broadway High School, a rival of my own, cracked “Sweet talk won’t help you,” as we were now two hours late. Still, sure enough, just outside the train station, the air was redolent with the scent of roses, blooming everywhere, welcoming us in.

That’s enough about the journey. Suffice it to say that the three-hour delay on the return cannot be tamed into romance. There was no intelligent elderly companion, no kelp, no roses, just a weary, bleary slog into the industrial heart of Seattle late, late at night.