Yesterday, I woke up to a strange noise. What was it? It sounded vaguely familiar, like a vacuum being operated several stories away. It would go for a while, then stop, then, several minutes later, start again.

It nagged away at my semi-consciousness. Also, the room was getting hot. I couldn’t sleep. I got up, and realized that the sound was caused by hot air blowing out of a vent. My friend had turned the heat on.

Indoor heating. Now there’s a concept we haven’t had to think about in a while. The weather today is gorgeous—deep blue autumnal sky, leaves started to change colour and fall, twisting, from their parent trees. But even in the sunshine, we’re comfortable in long pants or a long-sleeved t-shirt.

Several days this week were cool and cloudy. It’s started raining, just a little bit. “You’re going to learn a whole new vocabulary,” I told Ilsa the other day. It wasn’t really raining—it was sprinkling, or misting, or just sort of moist outside. Oregonians have as many words for precipitation as the Inuit have for snow, or the Maures have for camels.

A friend asked me the other day how I’m doing with my reverse culture shock. The answer is that I’m doing great. I’m really happy to be here. I love autumn, and I’ve missed it deeply. Also, we’ve been taking advantage of the fact that our lives are still sort of on hold. In other words, we’re not really working yet. We’re sort of homeschooling, doing some English workbooks (The kids are so happy with how easy English conjugation is!), but we haven’t officially started CNED yet. We’ve found a really cute house and signed the lease, but we won’t move into it for another week or so, and we’re still living in one room in the basement. Andersons live halfway to the Columbia River Gorge. Why not go hiking?

On Tuesday afternoon, we set off with our 3 plus two of the Anderson kids. We decided to do a hike called Angel’s Rest. That name should have been a clue. Angels would come down from heaven, right, so they would rest on a pinnacle of rock or someplace high up. We didn’t think it through, just looked at the distance (2.5 miles) and set off. Soon, as Abel put it, “We started to need to take a lot of breaks.” We would string out along the edge of the trail, so when other hikers came along they could get by. It was early enough in the afternoon that we got a couple of odd looks but, much to my disappointment, no one asked me why the kids weren’t in school. (I’ve got my answer all ready: “Me an’ Bubba just learns ‘em at home. Werks real good!” This would have been even better with a couple of extra kids thrown in the mix!)

The trail comes out at the edge of a cliff with a great view east and west along the Columbia. It also has a really impressive drop off. One little slip, and that would be the end. I tend to have a somewhat morbid imagination, and was running through the phone call to Heather if something happened, especially to one of her kids. It wasn’t enjoyable. They managed to stay back from the edge, and when we were scrambling up some rocks only one fell and she even managed to fall towards the bushes rather than towards the cliff side. Phew!

If hiking with 3 kids is fun, hiking with 5 kids is doubly cool. Make that triple. First comes the whining. “I’m tired; my legs hurt; when are we gonna get there; is he (Donn) taking ANOTHER picture?; why, why why.” There’s the bickering. There’s the being too tired to walk, yet having energy to duel with sticks the minute we stop for a break. There’s the singing of annoying songs. There’s the noise. There’s the top-of-the-lungs comments on the other hikers—“ooh! Her dog’s not on a leash! She’s breaking the law! She’s a lawbreaker! Lawbreaker! Do you think that’s a pit bull? What kind of dog do you think it is? It sure is big. It’s cute! No it’s not.”

Me (red-faced): Hi!

Lawbreaking dog-owner: (nods. Looks askance at children)

(Aside: They were actually right, although it was a little embarrassing. Donn asked, and it was half pit bull, not on a leash although it’s clearly stated that all dogs must be on leashes. Over half the dogs we’ve met on these trails are not on leashes. This particular owner insisted that her half-pitbull breed was, exceptionally, a harmless individual who literally wouldn’t hurt a flea and simply adored children. Whatever. I’m not overly worried, but it bugs me that they think they don’t have to obey the rules)

Mariah (Ilsa’s friend, age 11) somehow got us all eating pine needles. She claimed to notice subtle differences. I expect she’ll be a wine expert as an adult. “This one is sweet, and this one has a spicy mint flavor,” she told me, offering me two needles. “You chew them and then spit them out.” I tried them. They tasted exactly like you’d expect—pine!—but perhaps I haven’t developed the sensitive palate you need for this. She and Ilsa collected fallen branches and later brewed them up in a kind of tea. You add a dash of cinnamon, a hint of vanilla, and several spoonfuls of sugar and then, they claim, it’s delicious. They cut and sew tea bags out of coffee filters, label them with Sharpies (not approved by the FDA), and sell them for 10 cents each. I hope this gets me off the hook for college tuition. What do you think?

I think we’re living in one of the prettiest places on earth. I’m happy to be here for now. Even with the kids along for the ride.