Oregon Trail Revisted: Part 3

by Pat Branyan

Roseburg was our target town to resettle in, but it didn’t quite work out for us. The data was right, but there’s a lot of slack in the way data points relate to each other in reality. That’s not to say a single data point can’t be a deal breaker. Too low of an average winter temperature in my case, or too high in summer for Dahna. Rocky needs more sun than Vermont can supply. We all have our limits: Too many snakes—not enough birds. No bears! Cougars? Okay. Too many redneck neighbors—too much latte sippin’. Needs more restaurants—no, just better ones. Look at the frickin’ traffic! Rotaries?? No way José!

So, we moved on a little south, down to Grants Pass. We liked it a lot better even though the data was similar to Roseburg. If we ever move to Oregon, that’s probably where we’ll go. Who knows? Like my mom used to say, “Whatever.” Well, four long, long years ago this last part happened there, in the state of Oregon. 

Roseburg’s climate has a healthy quota of cloudy (and rainy) days, but compares a bit favorably to Eugene and Salem, both of which pass sunshine muster, if barely. The problem we’re having is the economic climate which, I admit, might not be fair since Roseburg wasn’t alone in being passed over in the last few decades. Housing prices are certainly high enough, but the town seems a little past its prime. 

Like Comanche, there are lots of houses long past their repaint due date. It has a workaday feel which we generally like and there’s nothing hoity toity about it, but something… So, we drove out to some of the small outlying communities which did absolutely nothing for our mood. We’re not giving up on Roseburg though. To be fair, most places we’ve seen in the last few decades look little green around the gills.

By the time we got back to Whistler Bend’s river and trees and the tiny graveyard that holds the bones of the kind people that donated this land to We the People, we two people plus canine were happy campers again. With splashes of Old Crow, a kosher dill pickle and the king of all foods, the hamburger, I was feelin’ good and lookin’ good as I can these days. In a few minutes we’re having Tillamook Double Chocolate ice cream which is better than your ice cream and, yes, I’m talkin’ to you, Blue Bell.

Umpqua River, Whistlers Bend Park

David sent an email the other day and asked if we knew Greg Brown’s “Eugene.” We like his music a lot, but we didn’t have it on the iPod with his other songs. Dahna got on Youtube and played it. Then we played it again it was so good, and you’ll thank David too if you give it a spin. 

Solidly in a Greg Brown mood, we listened again to his “Skinny Days.” Dahna misted up through that and David’s own version of the great song. David made a CD of some of his favorite songs, also sung wonderfully by David himself, and we listened to it while we ate dinner. I’ll admit I snuffled a little when John Prine’s “Hello in There” came up, but then I always do with that one.

David thought “Eugene” would hit home for us on this journey and did it ever. The correct pronunciation of “Willamette” comes through loud and clear, for one thing, if you ever cared. He tips his hat to the values of the younger generations with a rueful look back at ours, and his, soon to shuffle off this mortal coil. None too soon in his opinion.

Brown would appreciate the struggles of the young couple camped next to us in a tent. We met them beside the little graveyard and got to talking. They’re homeless but have an old car that takes the guy to his job as a salesman for a telemarketer. She stays behind and cooks, shops and keeps the books. They have to break camp and move frequently as their park permits run out. Then they move on to another state or county park nearby for an alloted time. Sweet and gentle people like the ones we knew in Montrose long ago. I don’t know their names. Never came up.

Today, we’re off on a 200 mile loop to the coast, over to Coos Bay then up to Reedsport, then back to the pretty park. Laundry tomorrow and a stroll downtown plus a dining out date if we can swing it with Daisy. When we have to leave her in the camper, we leave it unlocked and ask our neighbors to let her out if it catches on fire or the AC breaks down and goes quiet. It’s standard procedure among RVers.

In the many years we’ve been married, Dahna and I have often felt a bit like gypsies and have moved many times, often for reasons that make little sense in the common sense sense. The old feeling is at play again, especially in Dahna. But this time there are some more concrete reasons that show up uninvited and unwanted if you live long enough. 

Living a long time is the better thing, I think, and to hell with the “Die young and leave a good looking corpse” nonsense. Shoot, none of our friends are on the cover of Vogue either, so who gives a damn? But, long life should at some point force you to admit to the disconnect between the young Peter Pan face in that lying mirror and that old man in the photograph that just can’t be you. You know, the pic your wife loves best. 

At that point you’ve got to finally recognize and act your age and stop picking up heavy stuff. At the very least, stop joking about compound leverage and actually start using it. Remember 8th Grade Science? Levers, pulleys, inclined planes, and don’t forget hydraulic front end loaders.

Unfortunately, at our place there’s a lot of heavy stuff that always needs picking up, stuff that was lighter when we bought it 9 years ago. My roofer thinks it’s wise to keep picking the stuff up anyway but he’s in his 50s, so what the hell does he know?

When we came out here to Oregon in a rental car a few years ago, we enjoyed ourselves rhinocerosly as my old friend, and boss, Jim Everitt used to say. Since that trip, the change in scenery has sparked the old restlessness, and now, the political insanity, gloriously well-represented in Texas, has fanned the flames. And, that heavy stuff keeps getting heavier.  

Elk Grazing in the Umpqua River Valley Near The Coast

That’s not to say all’s well here in Oregon. No sir. I saw a guy roaring past in a monster big-wheel 4×4 a few days ago flying a large, two-faced flag, its pole planted back in the bed Iwo Jima style. Stitched together were same-sized American and Confederate flags, back to back. They, or it, flapped righteously in the truck, proudly displaying the touching patriotism so lacking in the Iwo Marines that only raised Old Glory by itself. 

And, I remind myself, the Trump campaign has a big office here in Roseburg in order to Make America Great Again for Flag Boy. So, it helps to keep a little perspective. It ain’t just in Texas. Molly Ivins would’ve had just as much fun if she’d lived here in Oregon. But, we were the lucky ones that had her. We saw her a couple of times eating alone at the Magnolia Cafe in Austin. Both times she read a paperback while she waited for her food, grace respectfully undisturbed.

After seven days here in the environs of Roseburg, we’ve decided this isn’t the place for us. You remember Gertrude Stein’s observation about Oakland, I think it was. Here, there is a there there, a nice one mostly, but it doesn’t click for us. I hadn’t thought about it before, but if you need a fairly big lot for a shop in a little mountain town you’re pretty much SOL. There’s just not enough flat ground for many people to have one and a house too. At least at Oregon prices.

Day Trip to Crater Lake

If you look out of town where it’s cheaper, you start getting into too much acreage where the heavy iron things are, and you lose the feel of “neighborhood.” That’s something we’ve missed for a long time. I guess, to be honest, Roseburg just doesn’t feel quite right. Metaphorically, the trees need to be the right height.

A few days ago, we escaped the unusual triple digit heat of Whistler’s Bend in a run for the coast. Heading west from Roseburg and over the Coast Range you come to the pretty Coquille valley. This did feel right. Everything was the right size but there were a couple of deal breakers.  

First of all, we probably couldn’t afford it since the moderating trashy element seemed a little too small. Doctors would be available there or in Coos Bay, a pretty big town on the coast just up the road. But also, we’ve ruled out the coast due to the cold rain that falls a little too much there. Maybe when we were younger in that other, hardier life. Really though, if it’s got to be cold we prefer dry snow lying up on the high desert. Can’t have everything.

It was a picturesque ride all the way through. The big rivers with the log rafts headed for the mills, the salty shops run by tough people, and the twisty, forested roads leading finally to the sea. It had Ken Kesey’s Sometimes A Great Notion kick about it which jibes since he was from Springfield, next to Eugene. The Simpsons reputedly live in Springfield too, and I admire both equally which probably says a little too much about me. 

The coast excursion had the desired effect of cooling us off nicely and clearing our heads some about Roseburg as well. We walked Daisy in a quick hurry in a small park overlooking the Pacific and nearly froze to death from a sharp wind off the water that bowed our heads. It was hard to believe we’d soon be sweltering back over the range.That day was good though in more ways than one, start to finish. Here’s how it started:

Cold Windy Stop on The Oregon Coast – Brrrr.

The coast trip was going to be a long one so we got up early. We were drinking coffee at the picnic table, each hard at work. Dahna was trying to juggle our schedule to spend less time in Roseburg and more elsewhere, preferably down around Grants Pass or back up to Salem on the way home. I was plotting the day’s route to the coast and back making a scenic loop. Both of us were face down, concentrating hard, when the air quivered then shattered with, “DID YOU CATCH ANY FISH YET?!!” We both jumped out of our skins in an instant, electric WTF?? And there he was, about 30 feet away. This guy.

Conjure up an image of John Wayne. Big hat, dust scarf, leather vest and pants, big .45 Colt on his hip. Now, back up a little until you see Ward Bond standing there beside him. Shrink Ward down about a third until the top of his hat is level with Duke’s shoulder, but be sure to keep the big booming voice and twinkly eyes and don’t forget the hale fellow, well-met part. Keep all that real big and meet my friend Joe.

Joe is a retired electrician, the 10th of 11 kids and born on the Christmas Eve following Pearl Harbor. His mom was born in 1897, same as my grandmothers, and everyone in that huge family lives past 80, by statute. If you saw Joe, you’d believe it in a second. It’s amazing how one woman could impart so much life into that many kids, or even just one Joe. I guess it’s something in the soil of the Pacific Northwest where they’re from. Maybe just the tasty oysters out in the water, come to think of it. 

We didn’t talk about fishing at all which was okay. Fish are safe from me. I couldn’t catch one if it jumped in my lap and slapped me in the face. Instead, we talked about everything else and it was just one of those good things, the way they happen sometime.

Common Mergansers on the Umpqua River

He stood away from the table and he’d kind of mince up, gesturing some story to life. Then he’d ease back, arms crossed, letting his creation hang in the air. He was a good storyteller, so I tuned in. He’d been going on and on like that for at least 15 or 20 minutes when he mentioned that he and Susan once owned a store on the coast. He looked up at the sky, pleased at the memory, and said, “You could get just about anything in that little place.” 

Then he ticked off a list on his fingers, “bread, lettuce, baby powder, a .300 Weatherby…” He paused for effect, looking down at me where I sat on the bench.

I was barely nine when my stepfather came into our little family, my father long dead. Nearly a year later, on my 10th birthday, he gave me a brand new Remington Model 551 Scoremaster .22 bolt action rifle. He was a good engineer and correctly calculated that keeping me happy was key to his own happiness, vis-a-vis his pretty new wife. My buddy Greg down the street had an old over and under .22/.410 break open breechloader, a Marlin I think it was. The Scoremaster was so sweet I couldn’t sleep that first night. Visions of us hunting elysian fields kept me awake.

I was happy with my new gun, and so was my new dad living in bliss with the love of his life, evermore. I truly loved that long-barreled .22, still have it and still appreciate the zen of a fine bolt action rifle. I know a lot about guns too, probably because of that birthday and my smart “Pop” who taught me how to shoot way out on the San Jacinto river. I’ll never forget that first whiff of cordite when I pulled the trigger of that new rifle. It smells good to a boy. Maybe too damn good.

I said, “.300 Weatherby…never fired one. My .270 kicked hard enough for me.” 

He smiled that toothy Ward Bond grin, “Aw, it’s not that bad. I had three of ‘em. Accurate. My son took one out to a target at 100 yards and all three rounds punched holes that touched each other.”  

That’s when I hooked him, “Must’ve been a real Weatherby to shoot that tight.” Then, I reeled him in, “Tighter than a minute of angle,” 

I looked up at him over the rim of my glasses. He stared back. Then he walked up to the table and sat down. “It was a real Weatherby,” he said as he reached out, “I’m Joe.” 

Caught me a big fish.

We talked for another hour until Dahna got antsy about getting a late start to the coast. We’d covered a lot of ground and, following the script, we had a lot in common—to the point he commented on it. I agreed with most of it but had a little problem when he said we were the same age after I mentioned I was 68 years old. He said he was 74 which, I’m sorry, ain’t the same as 68 if you look at it like I do.

About the same time my dad taught me to shoot, I was dealing with fractions and he decided to blow my little mind by introducing me to the slipperiness of numbers and time. Using our respective ages to illustrate, he made Joe’s case for him nearly 60 years ago.

He said, “You’re 10 right? And I’m 30. That means I’m three times older than you, correct?” It was also true that he was a good bit younger than my mom which never meant anything to those two.

I was thinking, ‘…huh?’ 

Then he went on, “So, you also can say you’re 1/3 my age, right?”

It took a furrowed brow but finally I said, “I guess so.”

“Okay,” he went on, “What happens 10 years from now when I’m 40 and you’re 20?” I couldn’t imagine being 20 years old.

The look on my face must have tipped him off that he wasn’t looking at the next Einstein, but he continued anyway, “By that time I’ll only be twice as old as you, not three times. You’re only 1/3 my age now, but in 10 years you’ll be 1/2 as old as me. I’ll always be 20 years older than you, but as long as we both live you’ll be catching up with me. See?”

I’ve thought about that all my life and how time can take you on a fast dance around some number and make your head spin if you let it. And I let it spin me around alright when Joe tried to make me think I was as old as he was. Like I caught up with him the way my dad put it so long ago. So, I let Joe have his point with my usual lack of wit, not to mention too much deference to a grinning elder.

What I should have said:

“Not so fast Joe. Let’s say we both live to be 80, not unreasonable. You’ve got diabetes and I’m too fat with a little hypertension. So, you’ve got 6 years to live but, hey, I’ve got 12. Shoot, you’re actually twice as old as me. In fact, you might say I’m only 1/2 your age. Gee mister, I’m just a kid.” I’d try out my own bucktoothed grin.

You’d think after 58 years of thinking about these things I’d be able to flip my dad’s Aggie arithmetic lesson around on old man Joe. But, no. That’s not what I said. I will, however, admit that Joe and I do live in the same general stage of life, and what we were really talking about was the pressing necessity of coming to grips with it. We’re both having a good time, but it’s getting harder for both of us to do a lot of the things we used to do, physically. At least without thinking first to keep from hurting ourselves.

Joe and Susan have a five acre place outside a small community that’s close to Salem to their east. They’re contemplating selling and moving to Grants Pass to be closer to their respective families; his in northern California, hers in southern Oregon. They raise most of their own food and work hard on the place keeping it trim and in order. Like with us, the heavy things are getting heavier each year so they’re thinking, ‘maybe it’s time’ to adjust a little.

We met again for another long spell and traded phone numbers and addresses. Later, I decided I really wanted to see his place and talk to him some more when we made it back up to Silver Falls State Park for a few days on the trip home. The park is close to Salem, probably 30 miles or so from his house. I  wanted to let him know we were actually coming, sort of asking permission.

I didn’t want to just show up and have him yell at me about getting off his damn lawn.

We walked over to the escarpment overlooking the Umpqua near his camp, but he was in the middle of a big group of Susan’s relatives, so we didn’t intrude. However, one of the relative’s boxers came out and nearly slobbered us to death before we made it back to the camper. A little while later, Joe broke loose and came over and we talked past dark when Susan walked up to remind him of his familial duties to the kin.

The next morning early, Dahna looked out and said, “Joe’s gone.” I rolled over and went back to sleep. I had his address.

It’s close to 10:00 AM, Saturday the 3rd. We’re showered and about to have a quick bite before loading up and breaking camp. We’re headed to Valley of the Rogue State Park near Grants Pass. It looks pretty good on paper and we’re a little excited. I’m anxious to see what Joe sees in the place. I’ll bet it’s good. Not too far from here.

Grants Pass, Oregon

We took I-5 south and, as you know, interstates are usually a snooze which can get you killed real quick. Not today. I’d have to say the short 65 mile trip down from Roseburg to Grants Pass is one of the most magnificent drives I’ve ever taken. It consists entirely of high mountain passes free falling into tight valleys or even tighter canyons with the Umpqua often running beside or cutting back and forth across your path like a beautiful girl strutting her stuff. 

My poor truck really whined and howled at all the downshifts, pulling uphill and braking down. Dahna said, “WOW!” in one of the great understatements of all time. If you came to Oregon just for this one little drive and then went right home, you’d miss a heck of a lot. But, you might just think it was worth it after all, and nobody else would care in any case.

We got to the park before 2:00 and the young lady ranger at the gate was all sweetness and light. We pulled into our spot, set up like pros, and I was about to take a bow when I stepped in a hole and twisted my ankle. That’s when I really got everybody’s attention, but they weren’t clapping. 

Later, while I was lying up in bed with an ice pack, Dahna flagged down another ranger who shoveled a little dirt into the holes. Dahna asked her if they had grey digger squirrels here and she said, “Yeah. Aren’t they evil?” Maybe they really should be called “grave diggers,” the little bastards. 

Gray Digger Waiting to Trip Someone up

This park is full of people and they all have dogs. We don’t have a dog, we have Daisy. She’s part coyote we tell them. They believe it too because she really is and they sense the difference when they reach out to pet her. Maybe it’s the low growl. The thing is, they all have dogs because they’re dog people. 

Dahna had a question, “You know who’s not here?” And she had an answer, “Motel people.” That got me thinking. All around are RVs and dogs. [Love and marriage, horse and carriage] Before we bought this thing, we couldn’t go anywhere because dogs. Get rid of the dog then, right? It is to laugh.

So, who’s behind the RV craze? I’m saying it’s the dogs and I think I know why. You know who really likes to travel? Daisy. No, I’m serious. They’re way smarter than you think.

Valley of the Rogue State Park lies about 10 miles south of Grants Pass beside the Rogue River. The headwaters of the Rogue originate high in the Cascades near Crater Lake which is another thing you could dedicate a visit to. The river runs a little over 200 fast miles to Gold Beach on the coast, just above California. 

These rivers change personality depending on various local conditions; variables that include things like watershed section, fall, forking, ox bowing and a bunch of things Allan knows about. In Roseburg the Umpqua was like a beautiful babbling brook but much bigger, scattering light everywhere, siren singing to the fly fishermen. Toward the coast it becomes stately, larger, deeper and slower like that old “rollin’ river” of song. 

We don’t know the Rogue as well and regret having so little time to better acquaint ourselves. Here at the park, and in Grants Pass, the Rogue is like a locomotive. It’s big, fast and powerful—dangerous too. Crossing the bridge beside the pretty public park in Grants Pass, Dahna looked downriver and saw a capsized McKenzie river boat, beat up and aground on a gravel bar. I’m sure the river is a pussycat somewhere but not here. 

Drift Fishing MacKenzie Boat on the Rogue River.

We like it just fine.

Yesterday, when we drove into Grants Pass for the first time, Dahna looked around and sniffed the air for maybe 5 minutes. I’m thinking, ‘What the hell?’ Then she said, “Drop me off here. Call me when you sell the house.” 

I protested, “What? I can’t live on peanut butter!” 

She thought back, “Sure you can. I remember your apartment. Pull over and let me out.” 

Once again, brilliant foresight saved the day. I have a new truck with master kiddie locks on the doors (Thank you Ralph Nader) and tonight it’s fine dining on crab chowder with garlic toast. I like to say “chowdah” like Jack Kennedy did.

Grants Pass Claim To Fame

We just might not pass on Grants Pass. Dahna loves everything about it and I love typing Grants Pass without having to hunt for the apostrophe key. It’s a win-win. The town rests comfortably lengthwise in a small valley, its streets undulating just enough but not too much. I figure it’ll be easy to find a place flat enough to check the oil without having to use trig. Mine’s getting rusty which, come to think of it, is another good excuse to buy, not build, another house.  

One of the things about Oregon, including Grants Pass, that totally confuses me is this: Why in the world are houses so expensive when your chances of getting run over by a logging truck are so high? Aren’t they made out of wood here? This place is so lousy with wood, you’d think they’d give you the damn house just to get rid of the stuff. 

Really though, you look at the little brochures and they want you to make your dream come true in an 850 sq.’ “cottage” on a “big” 0.27 acre lot for “only” 199K. In Texas you can buy a small town for that and you eventually get used to the smell. And, if the fertilizer plant blows up, why hell, that’s what insurance is for. Okay, I’m exaggerating—a little.  But 850 sq’? Isn’t that the den?  

WPA Mural – Grants Pass Post Office

Dahna says we can do this though. Get ‘em down to 165K, take bids on a little 20’ x 30’ shop, fill it with cheap Grizzly woodworking saws and sanders and other Chinese crap from their big store in lovely Bellingham up the coast. Then convert to Full Gospel Latter Day Oregonism for under 200K in a neat tuck ’n roll. Ta da! Piece of cake. I get it. I really do.

Grants Pass, like I said, runs basically parallel through its valley with pretty mountains all around but at a bit of a distance where they can’t hurt you. When you get to the cool downtown, a big sign arcs like a rainbow over the main drag beckoning: “It’s The Climate.” 

What they’re bragging about is the fact that Grants Pass only averages about 30” of rainfall annually, about like Comanche. This compares quite favorably to most of the rest of the Pacific northwest which is basically a drumming rainforest. Seasonal Affective Disorder is less of a downer in Grants Pass and the revolvers mostly stay in the closets. 

The population of the town is about 36,000 and has been growing steadily. Like I said, total annual rainfall here is almost identical to Comanche. The difference is in the distribution and delivery. Here the summers are dry with almost all of the rainfall occurring in the winter months in a gentle cold rain, perfect for naps. Coincidentally, I’m a nationally-ranked napper. 

In Comanche, the rain (and hail) comes almost any month, too often hammering your psyche with terrifying tornadoes spawned by butterfly farts somewhere in Oklahoma. Dahna says if it gets too dank and gloomy in the winter, we can always hitch up and drop down to sunny California for a spell. Maybe my old fave, LA. Hey, remember the Bat Cave? That old bottomless joint off Sunset way back in the early 70s? Me neither.

Yesterday, we still felt guilty for ditching Daisy the day before in a mad dash downtown for breakfast at the venerable Powderhorn Cafe. I don’t know if you’ve ever been mesmerized by the artistry of a crazed fry cook slinging hash in full fury, but it’s a sight to behold. When we walked in, the place was packed and the clatter was absolutely symphonic.

Have you ever been flattened by a 130 lb. waitress? No? Go to the Powderhorn at 11:00 AM and stand in her way. Dahna and I are cafe people, (not Waffle House—we do have standards), and we’d rather go a place like the Powderhorn than the Four Seasons any day. Man, it was good. Pancakes to die for and we came close. Actually, we’ll be back on Atkins when we get home, remembering every bite per pound.

There are two exit ramps for Grants Pass off I-5 and they’re connected by two parallel one-way thoroughfares that serve as the spine of the town. They run through the nifty downtown full of little shops, of which not too many are frou-frou. Most of them actually serve a utilitarian purpose other than propping up the vanity of some rich jerk from Chicago. 

Grants Pass Mascot

The neighborhoods radiate out on both sides of the thoroughfares in the same eclectic architecture found elsewhere in Oregon. The lots are a little bigger than Roseburg, prices about the same, and it rains a hair less. Rainfall drops off, generally, as you head south. Further south gets you to Medford.

Medford lies only about 30 miles below Grants Pass. It’s much larger and is largely uninhabitable according to some interpretations of the climate data. It’s blistering hot in summer and develops weird temperature inversions and evil fogs that’ll pock your face. True, sort of. Grants Pass is much nicer, according to reports. I do have a special fondness for Medford though, and I’ve had it for years. It’s a stupid thing, but it always makes Dahna laugh.

You might have seen the great film noir, “Double Indemnity,” with Barbara Stanwyck, Fred McMurray, and Edward G. Robinson in what might be his best role. Based on the novel by James M. Cain, it’s a tight, sweaty tale of lust and murder out in the ‘burbs of LA. At one point the killer meets a man from Medford on the train who’s come down to California on business. During an exchange of introductory pleasantries, the exuberant Oregonian proudly says, “I’m a Medford man, myself!”  

So, when some fool says, “I’m so blessed,” I’m liable to chirp up brightly, “I’m a Medford man myself!” When Dahna invariably laughs, the chosen one usually gets the message and looks down at his shoes. Very handy when you’re in the mood for an awkward moment. Sometimes, I say it just to say it and Dahna still laughs. It’s an old warhorse.

There’s another town, one that’s really something to see, located south of Medford. We hadn’t planned to go that far down until we got a tip from a beautiful brunette who lived there once and still dreams about it. It’s little Ashland, tucked up into the hillsides and looking more than a little bit magical. Actually, it is magical.  

Ashland is pretty famous for its high quality theatrical productions and boasts a distinguished alumni of thespians who honed their acting chops there. We felt a little gauche driving through and parting a waiting sea of patrons with our dirty pickup, but I’m sure the Texas plates mollified them. 

A quick browse of the real estate brochures explained in no uncertain terms why the likes of us can never live there, but if we move to Grants Pass we can take in a play now and then. If you visit us, we can treat you, perchance, to a bit of the Bard at one of three theaters modeled after his Globe.

Well, that’s it, almost—the end of the line on the Oregon Trail Revisited.  We’re at Silver Falls State Park near Salem on the trip home. It’s going to be Grants Pass. Done. Mission accomplished. I hate to keep bringing up Mitt, really I do, but the tree thing was a factor. In Grants Pass they’re the right size; smaller, much more deciduous and less coniferish. Dahna complained that she couldn’t see the birds they were up so high in the tall firs and pines. That made her grumpy—not good for me.

One of Numerous Waterfalls at Silver Falls SP

Hammering home the point, the trees here at Silver Falls are the most majestic yet, real sky scrapers dripping with a mossy lichen. The park reminds me of the mountain jungles of Vietnam, beautiful but dark and wet and spooky too. Once saw a centipede a full foot long in there, fat as a cigar. I got back on my feet.

Campsite at Silver Falls State Park
CCC Lodge at Silver Falls

Dahna is reading Astoria, a good book about John Jacob Astor’s failed attempt to develop a trading empire centered around the mouth of the Columbia River in the early 1800s. One of the chilling passages recounts men being driven mad by the incessant rain, cold mud and gloom. She pointed to the dense, dripping forest all around and said, “This.” 

Rainforest Teeming With Soggy Life

The moral of the story is that leaving Texas is not a matter of trading a hellhole for Paradise. In its own way, Oregon is harsh too and so is every other place if you think about it. Well, maybe not San Diego unless you’re a Marine boot in which case Hell hardly describes it… But, like Pop used to say, “You pays your money, you takes your cherce.” 

I’ll always be a Texan and if Dubya is too, well then, so are the Dixie Chicks. I love Texas and I’m proud of it, but if somebody ever tells me how blessed they are, I’ll just be from Medford passing through.

We had to wait a good while to take a tiny ferry to get to Joe and Susans’ country place. Enroute Dahna called ahead and Joe said, “Yeah, I took that ferry…once.” Onstar didn’t say a damn thing about a tiny ferry on that particular route to their house. 

McKenzie River Ferry

Joe & Susan and Their Wonderful Home

We spent several hours with Joe and Susan. It was terrific, and you should see their place, a lovely Craftsman style farm house surrounded by their apple and cherry orchards, blueberry beds and raspberries plus several cavernous shop buildings. They also raise turkeys, chickens and cows. And asparagus and I could go on. We continued our conversation about everything and, sure enough, it rolled around to Buddy Holly. He asked me if I knew the date when he died. It went:

Pat:  I’m not sure about the exact date. I’ll say January 9th, 1959.

Joe:  Nope, February 3rd, 1958.

Pat:  ’59.

Joe:  ’58.

Pat:  Bet you a nickel, ’59.

Joe:  You’re on!

Susan got on the net and proved us both wrong, but at least I got the year right and that’s what the money was riding on. The news hit Joe pretty hard. He said, “That can’t be right. It was the Junior dance…I remember…” His voice trailed off a little, “Shoot, I’ve been saying ‘1958’ for years.”

Joe & Susan

I said, “Well Joe, look on the bright side. You must have some pretty good friends to let you get away with a thing like that.”

Susan has a 96 year old aunt who lives in San Antonio and they intend to visit her soon, for obvious reasons. We invited them to come see us, maybe stay a day or so. When we got in the truck to leave I told Joe, “I’ll take that nickel when you get to Texas.” He’d forgotten all about it and, not being one to welch on a bet, he sort of jumped and started digging in his pockets. Susan said, “Stop that Joe. We’ll bring that nickel to Texas.” 

Won the bet and got a big sack of the best apples, right off the tree. They got us almost all the way to Mesa Verde coming back home to Texas and our cats, cool breeze Doghouse Riley and crosseyed little Miho, lying in wait. Evil as ever but kind of sweet in her own way.

We Bid Farewell to Oregon at Farewell Bend Recreation Area, Ontario, OR
Leaving the River to Cross the Arid Hills Beyond Was a Daunting Prospect

Hills at Sunset – Farewell Bend Recreation Area
Mesa Verde National Park
Anasazi Cliff Dwelling at Mesa Verde
Home Again


Awhile back I got on Google Satellite and hovered over our old farm. It no longer looked as if anyone still lived out there. The old dirt driveway we made up to the house was plowed under and planted back to wheat. Frank was a two-time cancer survivor and, at 77 when we met him, who knows? When we got back home from Oregon we corresponded a little and traded Christmas cards later that year. Then he called me on the phone.

He said he’d thought it over long and hard. Then he made such a sweet offer that I didn’t know what to say. Maybe we could move back out there after he died, he said, and he’d leave us all his belongings. Even put it in writing as his will. He said it would be like completing the circle with us coming back home where it all started. 

I thanked him from deep in my heart. I told him we might do it too if we weren’t so old that we needed to be closer to doctors. Actually, through all the years we’ve often thought of buying that place back. But it’s not really practical, much less necessary. In a way, we never really left. 

That’s the last we heard from our friend, Frank.

One thought on “Oregon Trail Revisted: Part 3”

  1. Enjoyed the new pictures and writing. From a selfish point of view, I’m glad you guys didn’t move to Oregon!

    The picture from Whistlers Bend Park and Crater Lake captures a lot of the beauty from that area. And you got to meet Joe and talk about ballistics on top of that! But as my Cherokee ancestors say, “Bad must balance the good….”, and thus enters the grey digger squirrel!

    Grants Pass (without the apostrophe) sounds and looks like a great place. I love their mascot. Always felt a special connection to bears, which might trace back to my families Native American ancestors!

    Dahnas’ pictures from Silver Falls SP are beautiful but as Astor and Dahna point out, it takes a lot of rain to make those trees!

    Glad you had a great trip and got to meet/visit with wonderful friends!


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