29 August 2008

Books and More Books

After being on the road for 7 weeks, I’m now settled down in Ashland, Oregon, where I’m renting a fabulous house with huge vegetable gardens and plenty of fruit trees. It’s a bit like the Garden of Eden, without the fig leaf or that nasty little rib. Not to say that ribs don’t come in handy—I’m quite attached to all of mine.

My current fascinations are Facebook, a highly addictive site that my friend Rachel was nice enough to turn me on to, and bookselling, which is at a peak right now with the academic ingress. I love putting books in mailers and thinking of all the great classes people are taking. Education is such a miracle. Without it, we end up with phenomena such as…well, George W. Bush, for starters…

My biblophilia was piqued recently on the plane rides to and from NM (details about the United Airlines debacle when I’m in a more savage mood). There I polished off most of an amazing book, entitled Outwitting History: The Amazing Adventures of a Man Who Rescued a Million Yiddish Books. You can pick it up today on Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Outwitting-History-Amazing-Adventures-Rescued/dp/1565125134/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1220046149&sr=1-1) for 88 cents, which is the screamingest of deals, as this book is an awesome tale about a young guy’s attempt at literally saving a huge part of a culture. While I was in NM, I kept reading pages of it to Margot, and we both found ourselves tearing up at the passages about elderly Jews handing down their entire lives to the younger generation via these books. My friend Tori taught me most of the Yiddish I know (and it’s stuck!), but even if you’re more than ein bisl goyische, it’s still fascinating.

The other fun site I've happened upon in my quest to find book sales was Bookcrossing.com. This is a community (of 703,000 members!) who leave books in random places so that other people may find them. Each book is tagged with a tracking sticker, so that the leaver can find out in whose hands the book ends up. This reminds me a bit of balloon launches our grade school used to have, when we’d tie tags to each balloon requesting info about how far the balloon had traveled. Bookcrossing is an international effort, so it’s exciting to think that someone from Medford, Oregon, could pick up your book and take it on a plane with them to, say, Thailand, and you could get a hit back from Bangkok. So, my new meditation is…what books most need to be released into the world for the betterment of society? And of course, an answer that springs to mind is one of my very favorites, Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer. But where to leave it? I’m thinking the front porch of the Ashland Hostel, where so many Pacific Crest Trail hikers congregate. I’m sure it could find a happy home in a backpack, all covered in dirt, gorp, and bug spray, as it should be. I’ll keep you posted on where it ends up…

08 August 2008

To the Lighthouse(s)

Cape Blanco Lighthouse

Umpqua River Lighthouse

07 August 2008

The Oregon Coast: From Yachats to Cape Blanco

Tonight my tent sits in Cape Blanco State Park, near Port Orford, OR, on the southern coast, about 25 miles from Bandon. This is one of the loveliest parks I’ve camped in: deep forest on a cliff at the edge of the beach. After dinner, I took a short walk to the trail that winds through the forest, a coastal trail that pauses to lend generous ocean views now and again, then ultimately leads to the Cape Blanco Lighthouse. As I approached the light at nearly dusk, a deer grazed in the bushes about 20 feet before me. We both looked out over miles and miles of water, broken only by a few large black rocks and a single white light. To the right was the lighthouse, the state’s oldest (1870), highest, and westernmost, circling its yellow beam around the cape. Back in 1903, it also housed the only known female keeper. Her name, of course, was Mabel.

The campsite I’ve chosen is filled with ferns and tall trees, providing a canopy against the rain that I’m sure is on its way. Yesterday was one of the gloomiest, stormiest days I’ve seen since Margot and I visited Moonstone Beach (near Hearst Castle) on the day of the tornado watch on the Central Coast in early June. Last night I passed a truly sublime night at the Yachats Inn, with French doors just 50 feet away from the crashing ocean waves.

Getting there was a bit strange… That morning, the Sylvia Beach exploded and went boom, as one of my dorm-mates, a self-described mendicant monastic, concluded at 6:30 a.m. that our other dorm-mate was some sort of fugitive and decided to confront her as she lay dead asleep. A fistfight nearly ensued, the mendicant walked out (as is their nature, I suppose), and I was left with the angry “fugitive,” who decided it was time to vent. My role was to stay in my bunk and wish that this was not happening in my sanctuary at my beautiful hotel. The drama went on and on and on, including an ugly confrontation at the breakfast table, when half the patrons left (even we literary types hate Albee first thing in the morning)…and I decided that no rest would be had unless I found myself other quarters. After having been seated at dinner the previous night with a paranoid schizophrenic who claimed to be monitored via electronic chip over clam chowder, I knew my limit was nearing.

I quickly exited Newport and headed for Yachats, a bit further south. The town itself is of the “sneeze and you miss it” variety, but the fog banks were absolutely sublime—some of the prettiest gloom you’ve ever seen, the kind that makes a photographer fall to her knees with gratitude. During early evening, I drove up to Cape Perpetua—truly an amazing place, and OR’s highest (803 ft.) paved road this close to the shoreline. On a foggy evening, it’s like the drive up a mountain in a gothic horror film. I made a stop at Devil’s Churn, where I walked the Trail of the Restless Waters, taking me from a high overlook with ocean peeking through the trees, down a switchback to the water’s edge. It’s a rocky, drama--speaking of Albee--as the sea water gets pushed over the rocks and explodes into spray. Sometimes in Oregon I feel like I’m in another country halfway across the world, and this was one of those moments.

Later, I made my way back to the motel, then took a walk into town, to the Yachats Village Market, enjoying the smell of firewood burning in the damp air and the puffs of fog hanging in the pines on the mountains all around. When I got returned, I curled up in my room, with its wood ceiling and paneling, while the ocean waves pounded into shore just outside my screen door. I lay in bed and let them loll me to sleep.

06 August 2008

Views from the Sylvia Beach Hotel, Newport, OR

Yaquina Bay Bridge, last night at dusk, engulfed in some truly spectacular fog

Perfect kite weather at Nye Beach, just outside the hotel's back door. 

The neighborhood surrounding the hotel

Three flights up, a very literary fireplace nestled in the library overlooking the Pacific

On a dark and stormy August morning...the
Edgar Allan Poe Room--not for the faint of heart (note le guillotine)

The Belle of Amherst, always a bit more sedate

If you're looking for that obscure autographed photo of Paul Valery, George Orwell, or Carson McCullers, it's most likely at The Sylvia, the best literary boardinghouse you can find

05 August 2008

Back to the Beach

Today, I am back on the central Oregon coast, to revisit the Sylvia Beach Hotel, where Margot and I stayed several weeks ago, then to make my way south by camping on the coast. The weather here is cold and stormy, and reminds me a bit of the old saying, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco,” which Snopes.com assures me Mark Twain never uttered. (Still, I like to imagine him, pipe in hand, shivering on the Golden Gate Bridge.)

A few little things have happened since my last entry.

One is a PO box and an accompanying physical address in Oregon.

A week ago, I found a wonderful home to sublet just north of Ashland. This area has so inspired me that I have decided to pause in my travels and rest here for a while, perhaps even permanently. I have very much fallen for Oregon, and the Ashland area is particularly wonderful. It reminds me a bit of Santa Fe back in the early ’90s, when it still felt like a small-town community, everyone knew each other, and a certain congeniality still existed.

Chuck Palahniuk has written a fun little volume called Fugitives and Refugees: A Walk in Portland, OR, about his hometown that pretty much sums up how eccentric folks up this way can be. And Ashland has lots of wild, radical hippie energy, mixed with “rugged individualists,” hardcore Fundamentalists (don’t spin that radio dial too fast), Pacific Crest Trail thru-hikers, pagans, musicians of absolutely every stripe, people who don’t mind living in isolated cabins for 6 months at a clip, brazen jaywalking deer, environmentalists, rednecks, militia, women walking down the street holding hands and singing, religious cult members, mountain-climbers, punked-out students, shrieking thespians…all of whom seem to turn up at its awesome co-op at once, quaffing kombucha and tossing organic Rainier cherries into their backpacks. It’s people-watching at its finest, and if you stop for a few minutes and eat your lunch outside on the ledge, the gestalt of the place reveals itself, somewhere between the doddering toddlers in tie-dyed onesies and the bearded hippies standing in for Dumbledore.

People seem very happy here, and the week I’ve just spent (several nights of yurt camping and others in the dorm at the Ashland Hostel) has been extremely pleasant. It feels much like a spiritual/creative/musical playground, with so many things happening at one time that it can be hard to choose. On Friday, I stumbled onto the First Friday Artwalk, near the railyard, where several galleries have shows and musicians give impromptu concerts on the streets. Terribly cool. Another night, I sat next to the creek in 99-acre Lithia Park, had a sandwich, and enjoyed a young band jamming on some blues and prog rock tunes.

I feel like I’ve discovered the place I thought Santa Fe would always be. It’s rough around the edges, sincere, friendly, deep, playful, spirited, and kind. I’m ready for this.