Saturday, April 21, 2018

Journey Into The Past

By Mike Nettleton

We've been talking about an expedition to Fossil for a long time. Or rather I've been talking about it and Carolyn's been muttering under her breath "why don't we just do it?" 

This is about my mama, really. She's been gone since 1983, (can it really be 35 years?) but I still hear her voice in my head. Anytime I'm about to do something silly, or stupid or inconsiderate she pipes in. "Schmuck!!!" Oh, wait that's someone else's Jewish mother. We were lapsed Protestants. No, mom's voice is saying "Michael Alan!!!" (The only time I ever heard my middle name was just before or after I'd screwed up.)

So we set off for Fossil, the small Northeast Oregon farming community where my mother grew up. All I knew of it were snatches of remembered stories about 5 year old Jo Eleanor Lewis and her 3 year old sister Ruth being put on a train in St. Louis, bound for Oregon in the mid-early part of the last century after their mother died. They landed at their Uncle's ranch, where life was hard and the winters mean. 

Carolyn and I, after meeting my sister Lana in Bend for a catch-up lunch, set out on the twisty road from Madras, through the ghostly Shaniko, into Antelope (where the ghost of the Bhagwan lingers) and S-turning our way down the canyon on a trek we shall call our

 This is a part of Oregon I hadn't experienced. I'd imagined a flat or gently rolling farm landscape where wheat fluttered in the breeze and cows mooed the daily farm gossip over abundant grass. What we encountered was more reminiscent of Arizona or New Mexico.

As we slid down the canyon into Fossil, I recalled stories my other sister Birdie shared about mom being sent out with a shotgun to go after marauding coyotes (I'm guessing she was older than 5 by then, but who knows?) and how she loved to see the wild horses galloping through the canyon. It was easy to imagine given the landscape we saw. 

Although I couldn't pin down the exact location of the farm they'd lived on, we passed several that would have fit the bill. The town itself, all four hundred fifty or so souls of it, had a lot of charm.

 Small as it is, Fossil is the county seat of Wheeler County. (population 1358 according to the 2015 census) The courthouse, pictured below was built in 1902 and still carries out it's function every weekday. 

The consolidated high school serves about 40 students and the elementary school about the same number. There are fossil beds up behind the football field and for a $5 per head donation you can go up and dig to your hearts content. Here's fearless fossil hunter Carolyn holding what we believe to be either a bone from a 20,000 year old arachnid or a 50,000 year old fossilized bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich.  
Since there weren't any obvious overnight accommodations in Fossil, we moved up the road 20 miles to the bustling community of Condon. (population 720) Luckily, there was a vacancy in the town's only motel.

The rooms were inexpensive, clean and had everything we needed. Namely beds, a table, a microwave in case we needed to nuke something a refrigerator and wifi. (Although, honestly, checking your e-mail when you're time traveling seemed a bit incongruous). There was also a shower I had to hunker under to get my whale-body wet but Carolyn, being an official short person didn't have that problem. 

Having grown up in Bandon, Oregon before it became chi-chi golf central I have an abiding love for small towns and here's a shot of Condon's downtown that says it all. 
Being habitual early risers, we rolled down from our motel in search of breakfast at about 6:30a. There were 2, count em, 2 cars on the entire main street. We were drawn into The Condon Diner by its signage,

there to be greeted by Al, coffee pot in hand, and joined the locals in choosing from the tantalizing choices on the breakfast menu. Also on hand were a gaggle of construction workers who we'd met the night before in the bar next door. Being unable to finish our pizza, we'd told the barmaid to ask if "the boys" would like to finish it and they said. "Sure, M'am, anything we can do to help." The next morning in the diner, they urged us to order the Full Monty breakfast as they were pretty sure we couldn't eat all of it and they were fond of ham, pancakes, sausage and eggs.

 Carolyn settled for the two egg and toast special and I scarfed up the "secret recipe" cinnamon French toast as prepared by the chef de grille David. We'd recommend the Condon Diner  not 
only for the food, but the friendly service and unique decor.

Fully fed and ready to roll, we ducked back to Fossil for another heapin' helpin' of nostalgia and a look around, and then set off North to make our way home. 

The landscape along highway 97 was, in it's own way as unique and interesting as the twisting canyon drive from Shaniko to Fossil. If you're a fan of wind farms (and I am) this part of Oregon and Southern Washington is Nirvana. What's especially novel is watching the tips of the propellers flap past the tops of hills, without seeing the column that supports them. A little eerie, still fun. There's also a great view of 5 snow-capped Cascade mountains, including Hood, Adams (below) the stub of St. Helens, and Rainier way off in the distance.  

We jumped onto I-84 at Biggs Junction and crossed over to Highway 14 at Hood River after ponying up $2 for the toll bridge. A little more than an hour later, we arrived back home to pick up Max from doggy day care.
It was a bit of a let-down to return to our hum-drum life in Vancouver. After all, once you've been to Fossil and Condon, nothing else can compare. I accomplished what I'd set out to do, which was spend time in the environs that nurtured the unique lady that was my mother. And, once home, lounging in my easy chair, I could hear her soft and patient voice chiding me. "Michael Alan! You should have left some of that french toast for those nice construction workers."


Friday, March 23, 2018

Those Spring Chores

Carolyn J. Rose

Nothing can give me a bad case of but-first disease like spring cleaning.

I need to scrub the kitchen floor, but first I need to sweep the patio. But before that I should finish the transplanting and mulch-spreading. Those projects are contributing to the mud and bark on the patio.

Once those chores are done, however, the floor will be put off again because first I should clean the countertops. Before that, I should clean out the drawers and cabinets. And before that I should vacuum the high corners where spiders love to build their webs.

As a result, the floor is days—perhaps weeks—from a condition even approaching clean.

I, on the other hand, am closer to understanding the frustration my mother felt when I railed against spring chores.

But how could I not complain? They came at such an inconvenient time. Winter was finally in retreat. Mud Season had begun in the Catskill Mountains. I longed to be in pursuit of sensation—the feel of the earth, the crackling of melting ice, the drip of and rush of water on hillsides, the bright blooms of forsythia, the songs of returning birds.

And the chore list seemed endless. There were storm windows to be taken down and stored in the attic while screens were sprayed off and installed. Lawns had to be raked and brush cut. Gardens had to be cleared of dead plants and seeds had to be planted after the soil was turned. Winter clothing had to be cleaned and packed away in boxes with moth balls. Closets had to be cleaned out and furniture vacuumed.

I rushed, I tried to find shortcuts, I whined, and I did a sloppy job—sometimes on purpose. These weren’t “my” tasks and the doing of them wasn’t according to “my” agenda.

Now, however, these are my tasks and I set the agenda. Now I “get it.” And now I mostly accept the process of doing them. After all, it means that spring is here once more. Each task is, in a weird way, a celebration of a trip around the sun completed and a season of growth begun. I tackle them with attitude and energy I didn’t feel over the winter.

Except for scrubbing that kitchen floor.

I can’t seem to work up a good attitude or a burst of energy for that.

Which explains why my but-first list keeps getting longer.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Sunny South Plays Us For Suckers

It seemed like a great idea—hop on a plane, soar above the rain and clouds of the Pacific Northwest, touch down in the South, and spend time with friends in Greenville, South Carolina (https://www.greenvillesc.gov/) where we’d soak up the sun in our shirtsleeves. We looked forward to getting acquainted with this beautiful small city and with our friends Steve and Susan Skipwith

Unfortunately, the weather had other plans. And for the first several days, our shirtsleeves were buried beneath fleeces, jackets, scarves, hats, and gloves. But chilly temps were the perfect excuse for indulging in buttered biscuits and heading for the grits bar at The Nose Dive Bistro.

(https://thenosedive.com/) Who knew there were so many different tasty toppings for a bowl of stone-ground grits? We spooned on cheeses, sauces, sausage, fried chicken nuggets, veggies, and more.

When the cold front moved on, we scurried up the road to the King’s Mountain Battlefield (https://www.nps.gov/kimo/index.htm) to bone up on some Revolutionary War history and enjoy a hike in the woods. On the way home we hit the battlefield at Cowpens and did more trekking, thus having another reason to ask for seconds on the biscuits.

A few days later we drove to Asheville, North Carolina, so Carolyn could see the home of her literary idol, Thomas Wolfe, author of Look Homeward, Angel. (http://wolfememorial.com/

A chilly rain turned our plans for a stroll into more of a hoods-up, heads-down scamper, but after a stop for pizza, we got there and returned with the T-shirt to prove it.

Before the next storm system moved through, it was on to Myrtle Beach (https://www.visitmyrtlebeach.com/) to visit Sal and Nancy Farina. Despite brisk temperatures and a frost delay, Mike got in two games of golf and we worked in a couple of strolls on the beach and boardwalk. The long sprawl of MB along the ocean caters to tourism with hotels, strip malls, and beachwear shops. But January isn’t tourist season, so we had stretches of sand all to ourselves.

The next storm system slipped by us in the night, but North Carolina got slammed and on the way to Roanoke Island we saw plenty of snow piled up by the side of the roads. Fort Raleigh and the Lost Colony site were covered by about six inches, so we limited our exploring to the presentation in the visitors’ center. (https://www.nps.gov/fora/index.htm) Naturally, we speculated about what became of little Virginia Dare and the other colonists and spent the next few hours shooting down each other’s theories. Mike still insists they were sucked into a space ship by aliens from the planet Nowhar. 

That night we stayed in Washington, North Carolina. The historic city is delightful but we made a poor lodging choice—a motel that shall remain nameless in a room with a heating and cooling unit that was noisy enough to make artillery practice seem restful. Too tired to arrange for another room and lug our suitcases to it, we toughed it out. The good thing about a bad experience is that it makes the next good experience seem even better. And that next experience was the Estuarium. (https://www.littlewashingtonnc.com/venue/north-carolina-estuarium/) This museum sits on the banks of Pamlico Sound and features wonderful exhibits and a beautiful video. For $5 it was a heck of a good deal. 

From there it was on to the Outer Banks and a raw deal thanks to political back-biting and the government shutdown. Mike had longed to walk where the Wright Brothers had at Kitty Hawk (https://www.nps.gov/wrbr/index.htm) but the gates were locked and we got only a distant glimpse of the monument from a side road.

So it was northward to the Currituck Lighthouse, a beautiful brick and wrought-iron structure. It was shut down for the winter, but we were able to walk around the grounds and admire it. 

We were also able to walk around the lighthouses on Bodie Island and on Cape Hatteras. Both were closed for the season so we couldn’t climb. Neither could we make use of the facilities. All doors were locked due to the Federal tantrum, oops we mean shutdown. 

After a time, annoyance turned to amusement. “What next?” we asked. “Plague of locust? Rain of frogs? Giant lizard stomping on our hotel?” (That hotel was one of the few open in Nag’s head in January and was right on the beach so it would be in line for a stomping if a creature emerged.)


We consoled ourselves with adult beverages and a great dinner and the next day headed on to Beaufort. (http://www.beaufortnc.org/) This was Blackbeard’s stomping ground and artifacts from his flagship are in the maritime museum and worth checking out. 


So is the waterfront and the historic homes. Here’s a view from the front side of our hotel, the Beaufort Inn. 
After a drive back to Charlotte through hills, farmland, and a series of what could best be called swamps, (our little rental car was in imminent danger of being snapped up by a passing alligator) we reached the airport and took off for home just ahead of—you guessed it—yet another storm and cold snap.

Still, it's good to be home with our memories of visits with old friends, new sights, sounds, smells and tastes. (Anybody know where there's a good grits bar in Vancouver?)