It is a gray morning in late January – rather typical for a midwinter day in the Pacific Northwest. But, in my neighborhood in the old part of Northwest Portland, there is a glimmer of spring. The cherry trees that line the old streets are blooming. I love their soft pink colors painted against the leaden sky.
I love these trees and those like them up in the traditional Japanese Garden near my home. They are special because they bloom so early. They are a hybrid variety, a gift from Japan. After World War Two the Japanese sought to atone for the war in any small way they could. This was one way. Portland was where so many warships were built during that awful time. We contributed in that way to the defeat of the Empire of the Rising Sun. In their humble way, they gifted us these trees. I enjoy them today.
It is dreary, nevertheless; but I am going to escape with a friend and enjoy the sea of clouds today. An hour outside Portland, up up up in the Cascades, is the famous Timberline Lodge, where we are going for lunch. Although most people do not know it by its real name, it is recognized worldwide as the Overlook Hotel from the famous movie, The Shining. The interiors were shot in Hollywood, and nothing can change that famous exterior WPA (Works Progress Administration) exterior facade, forever etched in the psyche of the whole world by a film. However, the lodge is really not at all creepy, and is a wonderful place to go on a dreary day to get above the clouds and enjoy the intense winter sun, the brilliant blue sky, and the dazzling snow.
The Chinese have an expression for this phenomenon. They call it observing the hai yün or sea of clouds. Climbing above the cloud layer can be a kind of evocative experience.
One time I climbed the Yellow Mountain in Shan Dong Province, China to see the sunrise on the sea of clouds. I had to get up at four in the morning to begin the climb up the thousands of ancient stone steps to the temple at the top. It was cold, dark, and foggy when I left the small hotel and began the ascent. As I climbed, I imagined having some sort of ethereal spiritual experience at the top, alone with the sunrise. When I arrived at the summit I realized that I was not alone. There were already hundreds of little Chinese kids clustered about in their school uniforms dutifully writing poems.
So I wrote a poem too.