Last week we loaded up the mini-van and set off on what I started calling the Farewell Oregon Tour. I had a few things I wanted to give to my daughter and my brother, and I wanted to see my mother and my daughter before heading out to Munich. Also, a road trip meant that we could spend some time in a few of my favorite places before leaving this side of the country for at least the next three years.
It was a hard trip. Much more difficult then I had expected it to be.
First of all, I needed more time everywhere. I kept having to leave before I was fully ready to go. Of course I could have used weeks, years even in a few of these places so perhaps the time I did have was enough.
Second of all, Its very hard to say good bye to places and friends and especially to my mother. Who started weeping when she first figured out that I was going away for three years. “I’m going to die and I’ll never see you again,” she said as we sat out on the assisted living care porch. “Um, yes, I’m afraid that’s true,” I thought but did not say out loud. How do we walk away from someone, (like your mother!) knowing we might never see them again?
Actually, Mom is kind of clicking along and even improving so who knows, she could still be here five years from now. Or long enough for a few more visits back home. I don’t know. All I know is that my brother came by and sat with Mom and I while we looked through some old yearbooks of hers together thirty-six hours later. And then, she was getting sleepy and it was time for me to go. So we walked her back to her bed where Tom tucked her in and I thought about the symbology of this whole ritual a little too intensely and then managed to continue to not weep out loud till days later.
We took Highway 29 out of the upper Napa Valley that comes into a t-intersection with Highway 20 west of Clear Lake. The brush is dry and crisp. We drove through the still cooling charred remains of an extensive fire marveling at the breadth of the burn. But a lot of California lives to burn, this is one of the ways of this state.
We had lunch at our now favorite Mexican dive in Williams: Roberta’s Taqueria on E Street. To look at the place you’re certain you’re going to die of some horrific disease but its really incredible Mexican food. No, that’s not right. It’s really incredible food of all kinds of food. Best food ever along that stretch of I5. We had our last meal there for a while. See? See how this kind of a trip can get a little melancholy?
We camped at Mazama Village on the south side of Crater Lake. Bill had not yet seen the lake and it had been several decades for me too. More then thirty years I think but let’s not count right this moment. We crossed the Siskiyous north of Mt. Shasta and drove up Highway 97 through farms and poverty until we passed through Klamath Falls, Oregon.
My first job out of college was working as a producer-director for the local TV station there. I lasted a whole ninety days until I got fired. I moved there the month before I turned 21. I was very young and way short in the common sense department. I thought about all that as we drove past my first apartment ever.
We spent our second night camping along the Metolius River north of Camp Sherman. I love the Metolius. It comes out of the side of a hill, an underground river emerging fully formed and singing a river’s song of simple peace. The water level never changes so there is no sandy bank along this river. Just green growing things crowded up against each other and the water. I found this river when I was starting to serve as an elected representative and I tried to get to this river when session was over so I could restore my sanity.
Legislating is conflict. It drains all of us. The river reminded me that there is a deeper, more transcendent story then the gladiator’s forum I had just exited. It was also a great place to take my girls camping. One of the traditions was to take a walk along the ice cream trail to the store in Camp Sherman.
Too soon we were packing the van back up for Portland. And Mom. And Audrey. And Bill’s nephew Dan and a last dinner at a McMenamins Brew Pub (mmm….tater tots…). The hamburgers have gone really downhill but a Captain Neon Burger is necessary if for no other reason then to remember all the burgers and fries and Terminators I’ve enjoyed for decades at one or the other of the McMinnimum’s.
Then, two nights at a friend’s Pacific City house. Long time friends. We-had-babies-at-the-same-time-friends and now, their daughter is married this year. Time clearly has just kept passing but this trip it was all about mostly just sitting on the deck and listening to the ocean. I will mis that very much, Munich is a long ways away from an ocean.
Finally, a long run back down I5 to the Oregon Caves – my first job after going away to college and my first summer away from home in 1977. We lived in dorms above the one of the buildings and some gave tours and some cleaned rooms and some worked in the restaurant and some worked at the front desk. On Friday night a few of us gathered in the lobby and showed off our photos. They had all stayed and worked for years at either the Oregon Caves or at Crater Lake. I had just passed through that summer. But it was a summer where I lived in green rich place with a creek that ran through the tight little valley and sang a brighter song than the Metolius. On this Last Farewell Tour, I walked all over the building and remembered a little about what it was to be 19 years old.
We came back home along the Smith River and then down Highway 101 past Richardson Grove where Bill and the boys had spent several summers camping and swimming in the Eel River. Past Willits and the subway sandwich shop where Ian the vegan could find something to eat while the rest of us craved hamburgers. Past all the Redwoods and finally home.
I want to say something wise and important about how to say good bye but really, I’ve got nothing. Its hard. It happens even if we try to sneak out the door when no one is looking. New doesn’t get any elbow room unless the old makes way. Even if we stand still in the same place, the truth is that place keeps changing anyway so, might as well go and find the next thing.
We had clams the first night on the beach and after dinner my friend and I walked down to the waves where we threw the shells back into the ocean. She does this all the time. I was in the water, the cold Pacific all the way up to my knees, my blue jeans soaked and I cared not. I just grabbed shells and threw them hard back into the eternal ocean and I screamed out, “Thank you!” I wanted the ocean to hear me.
Thank you Oregon Caves.
Thank you Klamath Falls although you were fierce to me.
Thank you Bend for the second chance although you didn’t really mean it.
Thank you St. Mark for the recovery and renewing, the first healing.
Thank you Salem for broadening my world so irrevocably.
Thank you Sylvan Crest for holding my mother.
Thank you Thomas for sharing the carrying of our parents.
Thank you daughters for challenging me to be my best self as best as I could manage.
Thank you ocean and stream, tree and river, rain and blessed summer sun
Thank you all