Just home from an epic three-generation family ramble through the Ancestral Homeland. Organized by my mom, 19 of us–aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, friends–started in the hectic frenzy of Tokyo and made our way by bus, car, foot and bullet train on through Nagoya, Kyoto, Miyajima (pictured above) and Hiroshima. What an experience. The country mice from Bainbridge were blown away by the sheer volume of humanity, pace and size of Tokyo (below). And we found quiet, gorgeous settings more like home as well, in Miyajima, Kyoto, and other places along the way.
Too many individual experiences to list, but visits to the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo and Nishiki Market in Kyoto, making okonomiyaki (a kind of savory Japanese crepe-omelet sort of thing) in Hiroshima, hiking up Monkey Mountain to commune with our more distant relatives, a whitewater boat trip, and watching Skyla shopping for a kimono with my mom, all stand out. We also spent a great day fishing the saltwater flats east of Nagoya (more on that in a coming post) with our friend Hisashi Suzuki.
For me, though, it was the day-to-day excellence of the food that really blew my mind. From high-end sushi (above) to the greatest katsu in the world, to simple bowls of ramen in a back alley of Shibuya (below), everything we ate ranged from great to excellent to top-10-meal-of-all-time status. In spite of averaging about 15,000 steps per day in hot, humid weather, I gained seven pounds in 15 days!
But even more than the sights, and yes, even more than the food, was the experience of watching my mom introduce her grandchildren to Japan (that’s the three of them settling into the bullet train for a 170mph cruise to Nagoya). And the time we spent traveling together with friends and family. I think we all made a lot of lifetime memories. Thanks, Mom!
Of the many things one can learn from our furry, four-legged family members, one lesson is certainly that greatness is achieved through doing what you love. Honey (our friend Smarty’s dog) and Halo (ours) are cousins–they share the same grandmother–and they love hanging out and playing together. But they are two very different dogs. That’s Honey, above, doing what she does best. Halo, on the other hand, seems to have missed the retrieving gene. She’ll chase a toy a time or two, bring it back, then stand by the door to go inside. Her special talents lie in kicking back, snuggling, and making sure her fur is on everything. That’s her below, in our bin of winter clothes, doing all three at once. See? Do what you love and greatness follows.
Several times a year, the kids and I like to visit the Elwha to watch nature’s progress as the river recovers from being dammed for more than 100 years. To me, it’s one of the most uplifting places on earth and a shining example of humans making up for past mistakes. The kids, I think, grasp this on some level, but also look forward to our time out there simply to be outside in a beautiful place.
This visit, though, wasn’t without some sad news. Despite mountains of published, peer-reviewed science demonstrating the negative impacts hatchery fish have on wild fish recovery (because of bad genetics, competition and attraction of unnaturally high levels of predators), earlier this month, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a previous decision that put severe limits on hatchery fish releases in the Elwha. The Elwha hatchery was ready to go, and the day after the court decision, they started releasing vast numbers of juvenile salmon and steelhead into the newly free watershed. Because of the known science–and the stated purpose of dam removal in the first place, which was to recover wild salmon–this is akin to shooting one’s self in the foot.
There’s a new threat to the Ewha as well, in the form of a proposed expansion of Puget Sound open-water salmon farms by Cooke Aquaculture. Specifically, a large net-pen facility that’s under consideration for placement in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, just off the mouth of the Elwha. Like the hatchery issue, there is overwhelming science showing the damaging effects salmon farms have on wild fish populations, and yet, our state seems intent on green-lighting more fish farms for our waters. To put one off the mouth of the Elwha is, yet again, shooting one’s self in the foot. (For more information and to sign a petition to stop the fish-farm expansion, click HERE.)
But Skyla, Weston, Halo and I weren’t about to let the news get in the way of a good time or good feelings. We walked into the lower dam site and marveled at the power of the free-flowing river coursing through the very place that once blocked the current–and salmon–from passing through.
We spent the afternoon playing on the newly formed (and still growing) Elwha delta complex, with all it’s perfect juvenile salmon rearing habitat. (The beach here also happens to be ideal rearing habitat for juvenile humans.) Here, the baby salmon feed and acclimate to saltwater, and it’s always a thrill to watch the small, silver fish rising to insects on the surface of the tide pools, sloughs and channels of the new delta. As the tide pushed in, it flooded the habitat, freeing the fish to continue their migration out to sea. Some tough news for the Elwha, and yet, the simple fact of a free-flowing river is still an uplifting experience and reason to celebrate. But it’s also reason to activate, get involved, and continue the fight for the Elwha’s recovery.
A warm weekend (At last!), chores done, homework finished…and just enough time left to hit the dock at Smarty’s. Weston was after the elusive, rare, trophy shiner perch under the watchful eye of his trusty assistant.
But the water called, and soon Skyla, her friend Ava, and Weston all took the plunge. Brrrr…Puget Sound in May! This old man stayed warm and dry on the dock.
Then it was time to dry off, warm up and dive into the snack bag. There’s nothing quite like a warm towel wrap and hot concrete after chilly water.
As the tide started running out, the shiner bite came on and Weston started putting trophies like this one in the bucket, which became a temporary aquarium.
Halo, who doesn’t believe in catch-and-release fishing, wanted at least a little taste before the shiners swam back to freedom. And anyway, by then, Smarty’s famous beef ribs were finishing up in the smoker, and it was time to head up for dinner. Beautiful day.
We’ve been so busy with shrimp and razor clams I almost forgot to post these pictures from last month. We went to California to visit the grandparents, and had a fantastic time being tourists. I’m usually not much for zoo-type settings, but we loved the Steinhart Aquarium. Strangely, it made the kids and me want to go fishing!
Another highlight was the Exploratorium, with more hands-on science exhibits than anyone could do in a month. We did our best in one very full day of zooming from exhibit to exhibit, and still managed to squeeze in a great eating experience at the San Francisco Ferry Building, which is basically the Exploratorium of food. That’s Skyla and Weston below, trading places.
One more thing, even though I’ve posted about it before: Iyasare! One of my favorite lunch spots in the world, on 4th in Berkeley. If you are ever even close to the East Bay, go there. Enjoy the sumptuous braised-pork-belly ramen noodles with miso broth, but most of all, be sure to order the shredded-burdock-root-and-prawn “kaki-age tempura” pictured below. Crispy, savory, succulent…one of my Top 10 favorite things to eat. Ever.