by Patrick Branyan
From the farm we headed northwest for the Willamette and the little town of Roseburg in Oregon. It was south of the big valley, and we thought we might settle there after looking at some of the climate and other data about the place. We thought basing out of Oregon might work generally for conveniently traveling the continental west. I secretly thought we might buy another used sailboat, possibly a small trailerable trimaran. I never said anything about it because the rule at the time was no more boats. We loved our old ketch, Alchemy, sailing Galveston Bay and the Gulf but she was a demanding mistress. We still sweetly dream about her and seldom wake up in a cold sweat anymore.
We left the Delores River on the 7th taking highway 491 to Monticello, UT. When we lived out there, before Reagan smiled, cocked his head and blessed the Ancien Régime, it was called Hwy. 666. They changed it for some reason after he came in. Why? It’s so easy to remember 666. Whatever, when we drove past our old dusty/muddy old friend, West Summit Road (now paved!), we looked out and up the mesa’s rise toward our old place about 17 miles north by crow flight, past Paiute Knoll.
Clio was in her fifties back then when she was Dahna’s best friend and merely tolerated me. When she was a little girl in the 1920’s, she remembered seeing smoke signals from the knoll. The two of them used to go “moki pokin” looking for arrowheads and spear points. They both had the eyes for it and there was a lot of, “Wow, look at this one!” I found, like, one…tops. I quit going when the futility, not to mention their snide snickering, got to me. It was a small club, clique really.
Frank asked me if we were coming back that way on the trip home. I said, “No,” but that was a lie. We’ll pass by coming home to Texas, but we won’t stop then. I do intend to write him and hope to learn more about his life and his plans. You don’t meet a guy like that very often. The classic desert hermit, no crazier than the average and fun to talk to.
We had some good laughs, and Dahna was discreet when she occasionally cut her eyes at me.
In Monticello, we turned north and picked up Hwy 191 north and sort of bumped our way up the ancient two lane through CanyonLands and Arches National Parks. If you’ve never seen this country then you should be spanked because it’s among the most beautiful anywhere on earth, or the moon which it resembles in some respects. It was a long, slow ride in a dream state and I still wonder if we ever got there, but I guess we did. We were headed for a place I didn’t know but won’t forget.
Let me say that even though we had never heard of Spanish Fork, UT, it’s a very pretty place. The “RV park” was a different story. Notice the scare quotes. It’s been a long time since I felt like some inanimate thing or place was trying to do me in, but this place… I’ll bet I spent 20 minutes trying to back our poor little camper into a cramped spot between two big motorhomes. I just kept missing it, rolling the truck over this stupid curb again and again and attracting plenty of unwanted attention.
I won’t bore you anymore about my language except to say that Dahna kind of enjoyed the operatic quality of the cussing this time, complete with little trills on the endnotes, and it took some of the edge off of the horror and embarrassment for her.
Along the way so far, we’ve noticed in RV Land the same class strata that’s sadly come into focus over the last few decades. If you lost your butt in the last crash, or the one before that, and you need to put the touch on some super rich high flyer who made hay on one of them, this might be the place. You wouldn’t believe some of the buggies they drive.
But, they’re not the only denizens out here in the wild blue diesel exhaust. A lot of people are living in RVs, the not so nice ones, and many are dirt poor. Lots of blue tarps strung around to replace the busted awnings, too expensive to replace. That and to cover the leaky roofs.
We hear them getting out early for work, often living alone and on the move following the jobs, such as they are. We met a 40ish guy in the park, overweight and diabetic, losing ground as a freelance (not by choice) pipeline trencher. He was about to leave after several months of spotty employment and was dreading having to go back home, hat in hand, to his unhappy wife in Denver.
I remember, too, a kid coming to my elementary school barefoot, and what I simply thought then was “weird” about him I now recognize as just being sad. We went nearly everywhere barefoot in the 50s, but not to school. We were tough. At least our feet were.
We’d leave sunken, identifying footprints in the melted asphalt of the hot Houston parking lots on Telephone Road. Still, I bet that kid was tougher than we ever were. We saw kids living in this park like that boy I remember. That downcast, somewhat vacant look familiar from the old sepia photos of the Depression. We felt a little guilty by being relieved to leave that place.
The 300 mile trip to Idaho’s lovely Three Island Crossing State Park was all Interstate, and the only notable thing about it was the incredible pollution that had settled over Salt Lake City. It made us want to hold our breath in passing, but the heavy stop-and-go traffic nixed that idea. But, sweet Jesus, what a park waited down the road! Somehow we got the absolute best spot there and it was one of only three pull throughs—no backing.
I almost think the universe felt bad about destroying my trailer-backing-up confidence in Spanish Fork and gave me this gift as recompense, but I know better. I’ve learned through hard use that the universe is scrupulously neutral, and the chuckling you sometimes hear in your head is just yourself trying to maintain some sense of dignity, a little self-deprecating balance in a banana peel world. It’s not the gods, per se, amusing themselves in our little noodles, it’s just us chickens. I’m sure of that…I think.
Linda, our old friend from the 60s drove down from Helena through no little discomfort (long story) to meet us and plot our revenge on the Democratic Party after its shameful primary. We had hoped Rocky and Elaine could join us too, so we would have, “the wind of the old days blow through our (thinning) hair,” as Baez put it so well. It was not to be, but we soldiered on.
Those of you who know Linda know she’s spent her entire adult life fighting the bastards first as a Vista Volunteer in the 60s then as a high-functioning Democratic operative in the bowels of Montana politics.
One morning before Linda came for coffee, we fell into conversation with our neighbors who announced their politics with the immigration “issue.” This was mentioned along with their general anger about the rottenness of our choices this election go around. I agreed wholeheartedly with them while slipping in the fact that we were New Deal liberals—and I used that word! Throw in a scoop of JFK, the rare man who could learn, and that’s us. Yep, dinosaurs.
One month after Dahna and I moved in together, we lined up at an elementary school in Houston’s famous Montrose area. Probably the most liberal neighborhood in Texas. We stood there in a cold drizzle to vote for George McGovern. It was about 8:00 AM and we were surrounded by young Nixon voters, dressed in suits. They were chatting and laughing about the blowout they knew was coming. They were nice enough and didn’t call me a girl even once.
Hell, we were dinosaurs even then. Very young, naive dinosaurs. It’s one thing to be an old dinosaur, but when you’re a young dinosaur it’s an interminably long slog through eons of defeat. Hey! Maybe in four years! Well, it was a shock. We couldn’t believe the country would actually vote again for that guy, but they did in record numbers. He was tricky, that Dick.
Oddly enough, our campmates didn’t bat an eye, much less pull a gun, and we had a fine conversation with lots of points of agreement. Finally, the husband, an Air Force lifer said, “This is our fault. We let this happen and it’s our fault for not paying attention.” Truer words…
Occasionally, while Linda and I were head to head reminiscing or fretting about the future, Dahna would slip out with Daisy, walk down by the river and take some beautiful pictures of the landscape and its birds. The Snake posed no threat to us this time, but once, back in ’76, we were backpacking and hitchhiking to Montana (to see Linda) when the earthen Teton Dam broke near Jenny Lake close to Yellowstone. We camped there the night before because Yellowstone was “full” of more respectable campers. At least that was the message we got: No Hitchhikers!
The Snake swept its valley the next morning killing a number of people. We would almost certainly have been killed ourselves had we been successful in catching a ride down by the river that morning. But, nobody going that way would pick us up. Finally, a big Buick taking the high road pulled over. We got in because it was all we could get. The elderly couple said we were the first hitchhikers they ever picked up. It was the best ride we ever got, boring as hell.
Best ride anybody ever got.
Forward to this century, Dahna saw huge trout breaching the water and they were THIS BIG! I see you don’t believe me. I don’t believe her either.
Idaho is a beautiful state with lots of neat people and you should go there. Even their famous crazies are nice if you don’t tell them too much. The park was a delight, and so was Linda and we had the best time. But it’s 6:00 AM, the wheel bearings are greased, the lug nuts torqued, and the Snake is starting to bounce a little light. Time to go to Memaloose State Park on the beautiful Columbia River in Oregon. Memaloose roughly means “place of the dead” and refers to a Native American cemetery.
Our little camper is a 19’ silver, aluminum clad, “canned ham” style retro that only weighs 2 tons with all our stuff in it. We bought a new truck to pull it because our old one was old and a little wheezy in the mountains. Daisy owns most of the truck, taking the entire back seat and center console while we’re scrunched up in our little seats up front.
She generally rides full flop on the pillowed center console and drools into our cup holders which is just the best. We weren’t sure how it would go hauling our blind, 50lb. girl around all over, but it’s been good. She seems to like all the new company and has gone from her normal 2 poops per day to 1 every 2 days. This can save a lot of poop bags over the long run, and you have to have them these days or else.
We left Idaho early because Memaloose was a long way at 435 miles for us even by interstate. Originally, we scheduled a two day stop there but cancelled one day in order to spend an extra day with Linda. It was certainly worth it, but it meant having to saddle up again the next day with little rest before heading out later to Salem.
I was pretty tired as we approached Memaloose, but I was confident in the On Star turn-by-turn directions that come as a complimentary, if short, subscription when you buy a GM vehicle. It had always performed flawlessly before and I was a fan. Not this time.
We ended up on the top of a mountain on a tiny little road that would scare the crap out of a bighorn ram. Dahna punched the On Star button with her fist, and the poor lady that answered quickly washed her hands of the whole damn disaster and connected us to the park rangers far, far below. They said, “Whatever you do, don’t use On Star or your GPS!” “Thanks for the tip,” replied Dahna in the Exorcist voice I hope you never hear.
Not long ago, Rocky and I were musing, in a series of dark emails, about the possible plans our robot overlords have for us. I’m not saying the Algorithminians were trying to kill us up there, but Jesus Christ!
My desperately new-found backing skills saved us from the vultures already circling, and we finally made it back down to the park sited beside the magnificent Columbia River. The Columbia isn’t the biggest river in the country, but it’s in a class by itself. Something everyone should see at least 50 times. A thing like that might make you wonder why you stayed in Texas so long. Not me, but Dahna’s antsy.
We only stayed one night at Memaloose. We didn’t have all the time in the world to get to the Willamette and towns south of it and that was the problem. We were pretty serious about moving somewhere in Oregon and wanted to spend as much time near prospective locations as possible. Once we got set up, Dahna cooked a fine meal and the Old Crow came through. It was nice and relaxing that night.
The next day we met the most attractive young couple you ever saw “camping” next to us in the most humungous 5th wheel trailer. I guess the monster was limited in size only by the laws of physics. It was a “toy hauler” which stored their Harleys way out in back and spun more tires than a semi. About 40, Glen just got his 20 year pin at Coors working as a carton packager, the stuff of which surely tastes better than the “moose piss” they package, as Rocky puts it.
Unlike our unfortunate pipeline friend back in Spanish Fork, Glenn knew young to get a good job and keep it long term by being the best at what he did. I have no idea what it takes to do that, but Dahna doesn’t seem to mind.
If you’ve ever worked in an American factory you know it ain’t easy. But, unlike a lot of us, Glenn never had to take his job home with him. Instead he and Tammy, a property appraiser, put the energy into their marriage and it shows in the glow, so to speak. I once worked hard on the floor of a sandpaper factory. But, when the day was over that was it. I was free of the place. I remember partying with the other hands and having a great time. No worries until I landed an office job there. A lot more pay but a lot less fun too. Less invites and the damn homework…
That’s when I understood why Sid kept turning down the supervisor job at Armco, and Glenn was smart about that too. He struck me as being smart enough to run that plant if he wanted to. These are hard times to be sure, and Glenn and Tammy’s success in living the dream is getting much harder for a lot of people, even those with their good sense and discipline.
[Note]: Running belly to the ground, the squirrels out here have the habit of digging really big holes. They’re called grey diggers (“grave” diggers if you’re from Texas and a little hard of hearing). In the parks, which number in the zillions, Boy Scouts come along behind the little devils, filling in the holes to keep you from twisting your ankle. I’m sure the kids were happy to get outdoors and away from their scoutmasters for awhile, even it was shoveling dirt.
You may have heard that Oregon is a liberal state. It is and infrastructure is big here—more Keynes, less Friedman. We might just stay here. Seriously. Actually, we came to Oregon to look it over as a place to resettle, something we’ve done a lot of times.
When Tammy got on her big Harley, she turned around and said, “I’m going to scare Daisy now, sorry.” We both jumped when she fired that thing up, and I must admit I was more than a little jealous watching them rumble down the park road on their way out. We were gone when they got back, headed to the Hee Hee Illahee RV park in Salem. It didn’t look very inviting from the satellite view, and we weren’t looking forward to it, but it was all we could get. Boy were we wrong!
Hee Hee Illahee means “a fun place to be” in Native American phraseology according to the park pamphlet we got with our receipt. It sounds like a chuckle out of Blazing Saddles, but this park is really serious about “Puttin’ on the Ritz.” It’s 100% Native American owned and we, and our immediate neighbors, were struck by the opulence of the place. I wondered why they were being so nice to us, treating us like kings. Had they forgotten? Or was it a trap?
The spaces were close together, which sounds bad and is sometimes, but not here for some reason, and each one was a pull through and pancake flat ’n level. A no hassle RV set up, deluxe city supremo. It had a pool, sauna, laundry with lots of machines and something I’ve never seen—about nine keypad-coded single occupancy bathrooms, each with a shower and each big enough to furnish as an apartment. Salem’s Hee Hee Illahee, RV Mecca of the northwest. Who knew? A little pricy but not bad, considering.
Salem sits in the north end of the Willamette Valley, our target destination, and is a pretty little city that felt good to us and we liked it. Living in a city has its advantages; certainly Austin did when we lived there awhile in the 90’s. The problem with our settling in Salem or anywhere in the Willamette, though, was its vast grass seed farming. Dahna has bad allergies, and buying in a place like that is just asking for it. And, I ain’t asking for it.
Even so Salem is the capital and it felt good to our younger selves. Lots of smart people walking around, mostly young and fit like we were back when. They had places to go and seemed pretty ernest about getting there. I hope they manage it, but it won’t be easy. We didn’t leave them much, and we can’t even seem to get out of their way. But, it’s nice to watch them walk by. City life.
Nine years ago when we bought the Comanche place, I went up to Abilene to visit Betty. I was telling her about the orchard and the hay fields and the house we were going to build and on and on when she took my hand and said, straight up, “You’ve got to stop doing this.” I said, “yeah, well, you know…” and she said, “No, you listen to me Patrick. You’ve got to stop doing this.”
Nine years later, Betty’s good advice has a friend in my 68 year old body and Dahna’s lawyer. This time we buy, not build. But not in the Willamette. Maybe further south and out of the valley. Rocky suggested Roseburg, and the data looks pretty good.
After a couple of days snooping around Salem, we hooked up and regretfully left the Hee Hee for Eugene. All of you are travelers in one way or another and know how it is to come up on a city or town via the Interstate. You crest a hill and there it is, laid out before you. Or, if it’s just flat like Houston, you find yourself quickly surrounded by businesses and houses, billboards all over the place, zooming by, and you know you’re in a big thing with a name. Can’t miss it.
Not so Eugene. You can sail right through and not know it because Eugene is actually a forest with a lot of people living in it, but you can’t see them because they’re inside the forest which is what Eugene is. It’s a pretty big city, but it’s eerily hard to see even when you’re in the big fat middle of it. It’s like, “Where is this freakin’ place??”
“This’ll take some getting used to,” said Dahna the first day, “I’m just not sure about this.” Most of the time I just wanted to know where the hell we were, and I’m pretty sure I heard the lady in the GPS sob, or maybe it was just me. Was that Hansel and Gretel over there? Man, I could have used some bread crumbs. We were all glad to finally get back to the camper and the Old Crow flowed that night. Eugene hadn’t grabbed me yet, but as I stretched in bed the next morning, a little twinge made me remember when the mother of all charley horses sure did back in Idaho.
For those of you who never had a charley horse, you probably think it’s just a bad cramp. That’s not true. It’s actually a life-altering, possibly fatal, crush of pain that has few equals. Given a choice between a charley horse in my thigh or lit bamboo jammed under my fingernails, I’d have to think it over.
Tom, my brother in arms, taught me years ago that these monsters were caused by overnight dehydration as a side-effect often caused, as in this case, by over-medicating with cheap whiskey after a bad day or even a good one. Doesn’t matter. He said to drink a lot of water, fast, and I did thanks to Dahna’s quick pouring, and that’s why I’m still alive. Anyway, at my age, even yours, it’s wise to prophylactically drink a large glass of water before climbing into bed if you’ve abused the grape or corn mash, or whatever.
Sure, you’ll have to get up in the middle of the night, old timer, but you’ll be glad just to be peeing rather than screaming and waking the neighbors.
I’m sure you remember when Mitt Romney was campaigning in Michigan, his home state, and he gaffed out loud by saying the trees were the “right height.” Actually, the goober was on to something. The trees here are tall, really tall, and it’s disconcerting when you’re used to mesquites, post oaks and pecans. For one thing it means you’re in the shade a lot which is definitely not like being in Texas, and your eyes have to adjust to the new, leaf-mottled reality.
The question is, can we adapt? Too-tall trees aside, let’s look at the positives:
1. This is a liberal state which significantly reduces our exposure to gunfire, and remember, the Bundys are in jail.
2. There are a lot of athletic young people kayaking and bicycling around, but there’s also plenty of fat old people, so no problem there.
3. The produce alone is reason enough to move here. The fruit is luscious and grows on the trees that are everywhere here. There are so many apple trees, it’s hard to imagine what Newton might have discovered had he lived here.
4. The Willamette Valley is becoming the new Napa Valley thanks to climate change and all the Californians scurrying up here. Lots of vino accordingly, but remember to drink plenty of water afterwards.
5. The climate is moderated by the ocean, but not too much thanks to the intervening Coast Range. It rains a lot in the fall and winter months which can be depressing, but if you have an RV you can always bail and go to LA for awhile. I like LA. There are no hurricanes or tornadoes here and I’m tired of dodging them both…big bonus.
6. The Cascades. It’s true they have a bit of a bad temper, but they probably won’t kill you. If you catch the scent of sulphur in the air you might want to take a look around. But, there’s no escaping the fact of their beauty.
7. Water! It’s water, water everywhere and you can drink a lot of it too. Oceans and rivers and lakes, oh my! Just like in Texas, except you can look right through the water and see the bottoms. No kidding. It’s transparent.
8. You can begin life anew here, even discover your inner nutburger. At the incredible fruit stand in Santa Clara, I watched the creakiest, most ancient couple, still breathing, but barely, painfully climb out of a brand new red Corvette convertible that was so hot it made Daisy pant. The first thing they did was light a cigarette. True story. You know they didn’t grow up around here. No way. Gotta admire that in a place.
9. They have Death With Dignity laws here on the books (see #8).
I think that’s a pretty good list, but I’m sure there’s more. A couple of hours ago we were on the path that runs down by the McKenzie River watching a group launch their canoes into the swift current. A skinny jogger pulled up to watch and chat and he began to extoll the wonders of Eugene like those mentioned above. Then he archly told us not to tell anybody in order to keep the riff-raff out, I assumed.
He mentioned he was a high school science teacher, and after I said, “No kidding? Me too,” it went like this:
He stuck out his hand and said, “I’m Pat.”
I shook it, idiot that I am, and exclaimed, “Me too! I’m Pat and this is Dahna.”
The wraith looked at her and then back at me, “My parents were Pat and Donna (sic). Actually, Pat was my Dad’s nickname. His real name was Bernie.”
The little voice in my head got a lot louder, ‘For God’s sakes moron, back away from the entity.’
Then he trotted off like a character out of Carlos Castaneda’s peyote-powered imagination. Rocky said we were on a spiritual journey, and I’m starting to believe it. Hell, I do believe it! I just hope I don’t have to pay a brujo’s price for blabbing about Oregon all over the place after being told not to. Maybe you don’t believe me, but I have a witness. She’s around here somewhere…
Two days ago, I told Dahna I needed a rest from driving, but I was good for one specific jaunt to the Cascades Raptor Center. This worthy is located high up in its own aerie south of Eugene a little bit and out of the valley. Its main function is its veterinary care for large birds of prey, but it also has an education mission. For gawkers like me (Dahna is a serious birder) the attraction was the large outdoor enclosures that house a number of raptor “residents” who, through injury or illness, found their way to the center.
These beautiful birds, unable to survive in the wild, are lovingly cared for here and are now safe, if regrettably captive. Their number include a variety of hawks, falcons, eagles, owls and kites. I’m sure you’ve marveled at their beauty from a distance, but up close they are truly majestic.
Dahna said that if we moved here she was going to volunteer her services at the center. I told her that if she did, she’d have her own reserved parking place in the incredibly sloped and tiny parking lot. I knew that because that’s where I parked when she got out.
In close to a week we’ve looked at most of the little communities that abut Eugene. We kept our eye on the grass seed thing but figured it might be a bit better at the valley’s south end. Maybe a little less rain too.
The housing is quite unpretentious, but relatively expensive even so compared to Texas. In addition to its plain aspect, the housing’s square footage is more parsimonious per dollar than its yahoo cousins. There are 800 square foot cottages all over, and they ain’t all that cheap. It kind of reminds you of the small portion conceit of the tony restaurants that were so fashionable back whenever the hell it was.
Tomorrow, we’re driving Miss Daisy out to Lowell and beyond to see the big recreational lakes up in the foothills of the Cascades’ western slopes. It’s simply amazing all the things you can do here within a short drive in any direction. There’s hiking, biking, kayaking, rafting, sailing, skiing, skating, and toking. Grass is legal here, but if it’s not your thing anymore, there’s always the winery crawl.
Come as you are, just bring money and a designated driver because the roads are killer twisty, shoulderless and will drop you into an 8’ deep ditch if you drift even a little. The roads out here will show you no mercy, no kidding. They’re like the sea that way.
Jim Morrison said people are strange, and so we are, but so are RV parks. We’re starting to accumulate quite a number of them in Dahna’s logbook and each has its own thing going for it, or not. Sometimes it’s hard to put your finger on the whys and wherefores and Armitage Park in Eugene is a case in point. Like many of its public brethren, it’s lovely. But, it has a peculiar taciturn quality that inhibits the “Hello there” mingling. It reminded us of suburbia, quiet and private, the people close together but not really together all that much.
We didn’t meet very many folks in this park although there was the retired engineer, now a bright-eyed emissary for Billy Graham. We stopped to chat when we spotted the beautiful cedar strip canoe he built. It turns out that building that canoe, and Billy, saved him many years ago from a life of alcoholism. It’s a good story, and good on Billy, but he couldn’t talk very long because he had to meet his daughter at the university.
He was outside watching TV on a big screen built into the side of his motorhome as were half a dozen others. We’d never seen anything like this before and wondered if this accounted for the strange Stepfordness of the park. But, one sweet thing, at least for me, happened there on the first day when we arrived in Eugene, so I saved it for last.
After setting up, eating lunch and napping for awhile, per usual, I went out with Daisy to the picnic table. It was getting late in the afternoon when a kid, 11 or 12, walked out onto the meadow that served as a common. He had a bat and ball and began tossing the ball up in the air and trying to hit it when it came down. He was having a little luck but not much, and it was such a lonesome picture that his mother came out to help.
She took the bat and he lobbed the ball while she swung. I hope you all know by now that I love women and consider myself as good a feminist as the next jughead, but oh brother! I had to cover my eyes it was so, well, horrible! Finally, to spare her son any more damage, the good lady retired, and he went back to his more or less futile pursuit.
After another 10 minutes or so of yielding to the park’s hushed persona, I could “stands no more.” “Hey!” I shouted, “you want me to pitch to you?” He looked at me and nodded, so I told him to first ask his mom, times being what they are. When he came back, I found myself walking, once again, like in my old glory days, out to the “mound”.
I loved playing in Little League. I was a pretty good ballplayer, if I say so myself, and had a good little career even capping it off as an All Star, special white cap to boot. I was big for my age, strong and rangy, and played first base and pitched. I could hit too.
I had no acquaintance with the curve, but I didn’t care because I threw a hard fastball and didn’t need it against those kids. Most of them would have much preferred cleaning their rooms or doing their homework or anything, rather than face me. I got tired pretty quick though and then threw a little wild, but still hard. This appealed to my manager’s dark side, so he’d leave me in. It was all good. Really good.
So, the kid trotted up and tossed me the ball which I hideously dropped in a flailing spasm that brings to mind Jerry Lewis. But, after we both limbered up a little it got a lot better, and he started getting a little wood on it. When he finally connected for a solid single, I asked him if he was a ballplayer.
“No sir,” he said, “I’m English and don’t know the game.”
“You’re pretty good,” I lied, “Where’re you from in England?”
I wracked my brain, “futbol, right?”
“Yes sir,” says he in the accent that makes me sound like an idiot.
Yogi and Pee Wee were off that day so the kid had to shag his own balls whether he hit ‘em or missed. He was a little chubby from visiting this country too long and was huffing pretty hard when I asked him if he wanted to quit. “One more,” he said, and we took our places when he caught his breath.
I toed the rubber and shook my head at the sign until I got the right one: index finger straight down, then a flick to the inside—a heater to brush The Kid off. He’d smoothed the dirt with his cleats then dug in, his bat not too high off his right shoulder, classic. Unconcerned, I pulled up and checked the runner at First. Then I reached way back and let ‘er rip. When he came around on that ball I had to flinch at the crack of his bat. The ball streaked over my head, hung in the air for a moment, then dropped behind the fence in deep Center. It put a ding in my ERA and brought joy back to poor Mudville at last.
When he came back after this last long and happy shag, he held out his sweaty little hand and said, “Thank you.” I said, “You’re welcome,” and we parted company. I felt pretty good walking back to the picnic table where my girl sat beaming and handed me a drink. They left soon after that, and I hope The Kid never forgets the pure pleasure of solidly putting bat to ball. Maybe he’ll even remember the old coot that pitched to him that day, but I hope, better yet, that someday he’ll play the great game.
Four days later it was close to noon by the time we got Silver saddled up and Daisy loaded with all her accoutrements. We moseyed on down the dusty four lane trail to Whistler’s Bend County Park and got there around 2:00. This terrific park lies along the Umpqua River, near Roseburg, and is so new (less than a year old) they haven’t quite mastered the signage yet. Maybe they never will because the signage gene seems to be recessive in Oregonians as a rule.
So, we wandered around lost for awhile, wending our way through the tall firs and cedars and pines and cedars and firs until I actually mad-honked at a young hiker and made him tell me where the hell I was. He did, you bet. Since the mass shooting in Roseburg not long ago, everybody’s real polite, see.
We had a pull through and it should have been easy, but it wasn’t. Never mind. We walked a short distance to the precipice that overlooks the river where I yawned and it was, for me, ‘Ho hum, another beautiful river.’ I went back to the camper with Daisy and napped with the AC on full blast. It was Texas hot. Didn’t expect that.
Dahna walked the long road down to the river to be with her birds when a big osprey flew right at her. I’ll have to back up a little here.
Dahna seems to have developed a talent for talking to birds. At home she talks to bob whites, cardinals, owls, bluejays and the wild turkeys when they’re around. She does a really comical imitation of a mockingbird, the way they go through their repertoire of imitations like Rich Little. I especially like the goofy bird look she puts on her face when she does it. Mockingbirds are pretty loud when you’re sitting next to one on a golf cart.
Dahna doesn’t just make noises; it’s evident the birds listen and talk back to her. If you pay attention, you can almost get the gist of what they’re saying to each other. But really, who cares? They’re birds. The main thing is to encourage this dialogue since you never know when they’ll will decide to go Hitchcock all over you, and Dahna, nice lady, might just tip you off ahead of time. They go for the eyes first they say.
This osprey thing is just more of what I’m talking about. Back in Eugene, a mating pair had a nest high up on the old steel trestle that spanned the McKenzie. They have a call that sounds like Jane Goodall shrieking at her chimps. So, right away Dahna bounces it right back at them and before you know it they’re really going at it, on and on, back and forth about bird stuff, I guess.
I asked her if the osprey that flew at her said anything. “Nope,” she said, but I’m not so sure about that, the way she said it. She’s pretty discreet and can keep a secret.
Can you hear the wing creaks of a murder of crows flying by? Dahna can. You hear the flapping sure, but the creaks of hundreds of tiny, articulated bones covered with feathers? Instead of listening to crows flying around, no doubt up to no good, I wish she’d sit in with a parliament of owls and let me know what that’s all about. We could use a few wise political tips these days.
Roseburg sits among a bunch of really big, round humps that aspire to be mountains. The humps form up into little ridges of two or three humps per ridge, and these short ridges bump into each other at various angles. The town of about 22,000 squirts out in all directions around the humps, some of whose slopes have been logged, clear cut style. They kind of remind you of Friar Tuck’s tonsure, or mine (a natural, more glorious tonsure), big bald spots ringed with second growth, often a wee sparse.
Dahna thought the logging might have peaked some time ago judging by the thick golden grass that’s firmly rooted in the cleared spots where the big trees had been. It must have been some time ago because the mountainettes didn’t seem scarred, and the slash was gone. Other ravaged logging sites we’ve seen elsewhere in Oregon and Washington state looked like something out of a wistful John Prine song. In fact, the park caretaker told us the logging industry had been depressed for the last few years.
Whatever your views on the subject of logging, you know Dahna and I have been very generous to the industry for many years. Too many according to Betty, and I reluctantly agree. So does Allan. [A piece of advice: Never mention clear cutting to Allan. Bad idea. He’s normally not a violent man, just be careful.] All that said, depressed economy or no, you’ll still need to dodge a few maniacal logging trucks hereabouts.
Back in the early 70’s, Dahna’s big sister DiAnne fell in love with a guy in Vermont and brought him to our farm. They stayed with us for awhile until I shot my mouth off, and they abruptly left. They wanted to buy a used logging truck and go back to the land. It was all the rage at the time, believe me. But, Joel and I didn’t like each other and one day we went public with it.
He said, “We’re gonna go up north to Idaho where the trees are taller.” But he said it with a haughty air of distaste as he looked around at our little piñions and junipers. Pissed me off royally which wasn’t hard to do at that point.
“They ain’t gonna be so tall when you haul them off in your loggin’ truck,” I said with my own little sneer.
I’ll admit it was a cheap shot, but my hospitality was running thin. It was hypocritical too because nobody loves raw lumber more than I do. That’s okay. In Joel’s case I could live with ten thousand board feet of hypocrisy. I’m not as blasé about earning DiAnne’s enmity for about 15 years though. That wasn’t good, but she finally came around after that, and we reconciled.
Looking back, I’d say it wasn’t worth the pleasure I took in getting rid of that SOB. You never want to get between close sisters that deeply love each other like those two. DiAnne finally got rid of him too, but the damage had been done by then. They never made it to Idaho.
Not everyone would know why a person might leave Vermont, but I know one reason. A good one too. Once upon a time, Rocky thought about moving to Vermont and, being a researcher, he went to the library. After a while, he announced, “Nope. Too many cloudy days,” and that was that. DiAnne, a wonderful woman but no researcher, called Bullshit.
“That’s dumb,” she sniffed with her typical dismissal of nonsense as she saw it. She had recently moved to Vermont and “loved it.” It wasn’t long, though, before she came highballing out of there with a sheepishness very uncharacteristic of her. “Too many cloudy days,” she said. That and the lived experience of sliding around in its mud season. So, for the rest of her days, except those weeks spent with us in Utah, she lived in New Mexico.
Oh, I forgot the little interregnum in Houston when Joel destroyed Sid’s pickup.
We just wish she’d left by herself that long ago day when she put Vermont in her rear view mirror and came to us out west.