This post shares my three-week experience enjoying daily tea in a canyon. It also reflects on how an encouraging stranger inspired me to change how I prepare for outdoor tea.
Becoming Acquainted with Reed Canyon
In the summer of 2022, I spent over three weeks away from home on the opposite coast of the United States. I stayed in a dorm on the campus of Reed College in Portland, Oregon while participating in a summer institute for scholars who study philosophies of care. It was an incredible experience professionally, intellectually, and socially. It also offered wonderful opportunities for my tea practice. (In an earlier blog post, I shared my experience visiting Portland teahouses.)
I love having tea in outdoor spaces. Reed definitely offered a wonderful location for it. A lush canyon is nestled into the center of Reed’s campus. It’s interlaced with winding trails and small streams. The canyon boasts beautiful native plants and flowers, wildlife, and springs that form the “oldest naturally occurring lake in Portland.” It also offers delightful rocks, tree stumps, and occasional benches that are perfect for setting up gongfu tea. During my stay, I could walk out of the dorm and enter a trail into the canyon within two minutes!
Being so close to such a beautiful natural setting was a blessing that I heartily embraced. Knowing this opportunity was limited, I vowed to get into the canyon every day I could. And, I believe I went every day while I was there, except maybe the day I was at TeaFestPDX. On most weekdays, I managed to have my morning tea in the canyon before our workshops began. I would set up my teaware on an accommodating tree stump, log, or rock. Usually, I brought a fairness cup, my handy blue and gold travel gaiwan, and a cup. I carried a thermos full of hot water, too. I would walk for a while, soaking in the sound of the bird calls and the swish of gently swaying branches. The sense of release and recharge I found in the canyon nourished me.
Tea Encounters in the Canyon
Some days, I wouldn’t see anyone else while I was enjoying tea in the canyon or walking. When I did see someone, they usually just nodded and kept walking or jogging. Often, they didn’t acknowledge me at all. One time, sitting in an area with auspiciously flat rocks for preparing tea, a woman slowed down from her brisk walk. She took in the scene of me with my tea things on the rocks. “What a great idea!” she exclaimed, gave me a friendly smile, and kept walking.
Several days later–or was it a week?–the same woman came across me preparing tea on the trail again. She flashed me another friendly smile. “There’s you with your great ideas again!” she exclaimed. I thanked her for her kind words. As she continued on her walk, I wished I had brought another cup to offer her some tea. Maybe she would not have accepted it. Who knows? I can understand being hesitant to accept tea from a stranger in the woods, after all. Nonetheless, it would have been wonderful to have been able to offer her a cup of tea. I resolved to pack an extra cup every time I came back to the canyon.
I kept that promise! It was easy to slide an extra gongfu cha cup into the teaware carrying case. I went back to the canyon every day with an extra cup and plenty of hot water. To my disappointment, however, I never ran into that friendly woman again. Perhaps she went away on vacation. Maybe the historic heatwave that came through changed her habits. Whatever it was, our paths never crossed again. At the end of three weeks, I said goodbye to the other scholars at the summer institute and to tea in the canyon.
Inspired by Memories of the Canyon
Before and since going to Portland, I have enjoyed tea walks. Between spring and summer at home in New York, I probably average tea walks in wooded areas about once every other week. Some weeks, when I am lucky, I do get out into nature with tea more than once. Sadly, there’s no tea in a canyon here. Being so close to the Reed Canyon brought me the most consistent and prolonged outdoor tea practice I have had to date. It was glorious. It made me feel calm, grounded, and recharged. And, the connection that tea sparked with a stranger left a deep impression on me.
As I reminisced about my time in Portland, I remembered that feeling of wishing I could offer that kind stranger a cup of tea. I realized, with disappointment, that I have stopped slipping an extra cup into my outdoor tea case. I am inspired to reestablish the habit. Whenever I possibly can (and that’s probably almost always), I’ve resolved to pack an extra cup when I prepare for tea outdoors. Let’s see who serendipity brings to my outdoor tea time! I remain grateful for tea in the canyon, and for that friendly stranger.
If you are interested in tea and mindfulness, you might enjoy my post, “Tea Soundscapes and Mindfulness.”