Monday, April 4, 2011

Bound for California

I was born in California at the ripe old age of zero. Years later, here I am. The end.

Well, it might have been the end, as I have been stuck here in Oregon for the last 3 1/2 years. Oh, I like Oregon all right - it has the gentlest people on earth. Considerate. Non-judgmental. Boring as hell.

Here in Salem, the capitol of this great state, I think they add thorazine to the water supply.

I always dreamed of living in Oregon. As a child I first became enraptured by the California Gold Rush. So, just before coming to Oregon, I ended up living in Gold Country, about fifteen miles from where gold was first discovered at Sutter's Mill in present day Coloma.

That was boring too. Not when I first got there, mind you. In fact, I cried like a little child when Teresa first brought me to the Sutter Mill site. It was like Mecca - ground zero for that explosive Westward expansion that led to the rise of San Francisco and spawned so many tales of wealth, adventure, and villainy.

Many of those tales were told by the great Mark Twain, who spent time in the same towns I recently frequented, such as Angel's Camp. I even went to see the replacement cabin for the replica of the cabin that Mark Twain and Bret Harte had stayed at, as the original was lost and the replica burned down years ago and had to be substitued for with a replacement replica. Sam Clemons would have liked that.

Teresa and I hunted gold ourselves in them thar hills, and actually found enough to powder your nose with. We still have the sluice box in storage with all the other stuff we haven't been able to fit into our Oregon apartment after moving out of the rented house in Gold Country.

We moved here partly because of financial reasons (we could see the economic writing on the wall right after the big real estate crash - we sold our house in Central California one month before that crash and cashed in big - got twice what we'd paid for it two years earlier!)

After selling, we saw a trending decline in my online business of selling products I've created to help writers write better stories (see my web sites at and so we moved up North to Gold Country where things were cheaper. But a couple years later, things were ever rougher financially, so we high-tailed it up here to Oregon where it was cheaper still!

I guess it was a good idea.   As a kid, I added a love of the Oregon Trail to my love for the Gold Rush - so much so that I penned a fictional diary about a young child in the Old West as he wrote about his journey across the Great Plains and the wilderness to the rich soiled enchanted land of Oregon.  It was a pretty good tale I unravelled - oxen dying along the way, furniture left in the wagon ruts, sickness, but practially dripping in pioneer spirit.

Oregonians feel that way about their state.  Here in Salem, the original traditional domed capitol building burned down in the 1930s and was replaced by a monstrosity designed by Frank Llyod Wright, or in this case, Frank Lloyd Wrong.  It looks like a big marble birthday cake topped by a single yellow shining candle - a statue of the Golden Pioneer.  You can see him from anywhere in town, staring off into the distance as if to say, "There's gotta be a way outta here somewhere...."

I was actually bamboozled into thinking this would be an adventure.  After I read every book about the Gold Rush in my elementary school library in sixth grade (and this showed a real interest because priior to that I was to shy to ever go there before - not once) - well after I read those, I read a book called, "On To Oregon!"  (The exclamation point in the title is theirs, not mine, and is important for it describes how Oregon was portrayed.)

That is the book that inspired me to write my fictional diary (never realizing that decades later I'd write a real one that was even more fantastic! - exclamation point here is my addition).  And so, I've now lived those two lives of seeking fortune (and skulking about the youthful playground of Mr. Twain) and travelling those same trails as the Applegates (and even paced around the mountain camp of the Donner Party and saw the depth of the snow they suffered, as evidenced by the trees that still remain which they had felled for fuel, some 20 feet above the ground, for that is how deep the snow was below their feet).

I've run my fingers through the rich, black soil of the Willamette Valley (as they describe it in the book) - I've found agates and petrified wood on the sand bars along the Willamette River, I've gone nearly six months without seeing the sun once under those perpetually gray and rainy Winter skies (it is raining now) - I've criss-crossed the inner city wilderness lands of Minto Brown Island Park (originally owned by a legistator and a drunkard who were separated by the river - after the flood of the 1860s the channel moved and their lands were joined, much to the dismay of both of them) I've hunted for wild hazelnuts in Santium Park and watched the bicyclists cross the river there on the free ferry, I've been to the very spot in Champoeg where fifty American patriots outvoted the English and French contingents to make Oregon part of the United States, rather than independent or part of Canada - I've eaten at Bob's Red Mill and seen the legendary Bob himself walking the aisles as if he were a real human being, rather than an icon - I've crossed the Cascades to hike along ancient lava flows up to extinct volcanoes, I've had the biggest damn cup of hot chocolate I've ever seen in the Timberline Lodge near the top of Mount Hood, the second most climbed mountain in the world.

Well, I could go on and on, but the point is - though I've done a lot here (all of this and much more, and almost all at Teresa's initiative), I've still found it boring because I'm a California kid.  I was born there, grew up there, lived there until I was 48 and spent the last ten years in exile, a long way away from my family and friends.

I go down several times a year to visit them all, especially my kids, but it just ain't enough.  And taking a plane makes it seem so very far away, and a train even more, and by car even more than that - a thousand miles (Mark Twin used "a" thousand miles, not "one" thousand miles, and yelled at anyone who tried to edit that) a thousand miles of forest and desert and lakes and mountains, rain and snow, tears and triumph, solitude and society, the old life and the new, a jangled mind and a sense of peaceful calm, here and there, now and then and yet to be.  California, here I come.

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