5. Travels with Cousin Georgia

We continued up the Oregon Coast on Highway 101 and passed through Gold Beach, around Humbug Mountain, through Port Orford to Bandon. The southern Oregon coast is very scenic and the towns are small, until you get to Coos Bay. At Bandon there was a very nice gallery called simply the 230 Second Street Gallery. Art work there was very high quality and the gallery itself was well done. I wanted to place some of my prints there, but they had a consignment-only policy and I was determined to sell outright. I have tried the consignment approach, and learned to limit it to galleries in my immediate vicinity, too much of a hassle otherwise.

I drove north past Reedsport, Florence, Walport, and stopped at Newport. Newport holds memories for me from my college days at Oregon State University. Whenever we decided to take off for the beach it was always the Newport area where we stopped first. OSU is at Corvallis about fifty miles east.

Arrival at Newport also marked the beginning of a short stretch where our trip follows the same route as the journey of William Least Heat Moon which he describes in his book Blue Highways. He was a professor of English and visited many college campuses including OSU on his clockwise tour of the lower forty-eight. At the time, his traveling companion was a slug. He doesn’t mention whether the slug had a name, but then I had never given my van a name and he called his van “Ghost Dancing.” He passed through about the same time of year I did. It rained on him then, and it rained on me about five years later.

I approached several galleries in Newport, but I got the same “consignment-only” story, in fact, it was the same story the full length of the Oregon coast. Oregon is a consignment-only state . . . very cautious. But I like Oregon, it has a low-key sophistication that is appealing.

Looking for Mice

The next day we crossed the Columbia River at Astoria and entered Washington, a state with more of a conservative, industrial personality. One thing I like about Washington is the number of old, abandoned logging roads that make finding free camping easy. My first night in Washington I spent in the middle of a clear cut area north of Hoquiam. It looked as if it had been cleared out twice with the most recent time being perhaps two years ago. There were the large old weathered stumps of the first cut, and the smaller more sharply contoured stumps of the second cut. I did a quick sketch in my log book of this contrast while Georgia went hunting. She brought back a small mouse.

In the morning I stopped at Humptulips to mail some letters, but I neglected to ask the obvious question. What is a humptulip? Still on 101, I entered the Olympic National Forest. The trees are much taller in National Forests . . . they’re originals.

Finally, I turned off 101 and drove eighteen miles into the Hoh River Rain Forest, and guess what? Yep! It was raining! In fact it had been raining on me off and on ever since central Oregon. Georgia does not like rain forests. I settled down in Campsite A-26. The trees were streaming with moss. They looked as if they’d been hit with a big flocking gun.

First Cut

First Cut

On the way into this spot we saw a small herd of elk wading in a pond near the road. Georgia was fascinated. So far she’d been introduced to cows, horses, sheep, and elk. For a city cat this was an eye opener. She was very impressed with the larger animals, but sheep didn’t seem to hold her interest.

Typically, Georgia slept much of the day while I was driving. Then, of course, after dark she wanted to go out and play. This made me nervous as most of these spots were not like downtown Palo Alto. There were wild animals about. At first, I wouldn’t let her out, but she became so

Georgia O'Kitty

Georgia O Kitty

insistent that I finally gave in. Initially, I sat up and waited for her like a mother waiting for her daughter to return from a date. I left a door open for her. Later, however, I just crawled into my sleeping bag and left a sliding screened window open. Too many bugs came in through the open door. Georgia gave a “meow” when she was ready to come in. She always looked so pleased with herself when she returned that I guess it was worth the risk. She was a very cautious cat after all.

In his book, Travels With Charlie, Steinbeck complained that Charlie was an early riser and would sit and stare into his face while uttering a little noise which Steinbeck wrote as “ftt.” I had a comparable problem with Georgia, only worse. How I wished that she would only stare into my face and speak softly. But not Georgia! She walked all over me . . . literally! She paced up and down my supine length stopping here and there to knead me in some soft spot. All this while purring as loudly as possible. This problem grew worse as we progressed north. It usually commenced with the first hint of daylight, and daylight arrived earlier and earlier as our latitude increased. Steinbeck didn’t know how lucky he was!

A pattern was developing in our camping routine. We would go several days camping at fairly primitive locations, and then on the third or fourth day I would try to find a spot with shower facilities. I hoped the Hoh River campground had showers, but it didn’t. It didn’t even have hot water. I decided that I had to wash my hair anyway. So I went over to the facility and used the sink. I was the only person there, and the water was so cold it hurt.

As I was drying my hair with a towel I noticed that in lieu of paper towels they had one of those hot air blowers for drying your hands. It was over near the door. I sat down on the floor underneath it and turned it on to dry my hair. I had been there about twenty seconds when another camper came through the door and almost tripped over me.

“Good morning,” I said sheepishly.

“Ahh . . . good morning,” he replied hesitantly.

“It would have helped if they had put this hair dryer higher on the wall,” I said, smiling broadly.

“Uh Huh,” he replied, quickly going about his business. As he went through his morning routine I noticed he kept giving me furtive glances out of the corner of his eye.

Well anyway, it worked fine as a hair dryer, and I felt a lot better as I headed back to my van.

I drove out of the Hoh River Rain Forest and back to 101, turned right and continued north. I took a side road to have a look at the town of Clallan Bay and then back to 101 and east through Port Angeles to Port Townsend. At Port Townsend I made an almost perfect connection (10 minutes to spare) with an unscheduled ferry departure for Whidbey Island and took the short trip to Keystone. On the Island I drove south to Langley and visited with an old friend from high school days. We chatted about mutual acquaintances for a while and then I was back on the road again looking for a place to hide the van.

The Langley area has a well-heeled look about it. Lots of fancy homes with expensive cars in the driveways. I found a spot in some bushes just off the road to South Whidbey Island State Park.

In the morning I drove the length of Whidbey Island to Anacortes to catch the ferry for Friday Harbor in the San Juan Islands.

Washington’s nickname is “The Evergreen State” and that is certainly true. There is a lush verdant look everywhere. But they pay a price for it. It could also be called the “Everrain State.” Things were quite soggy. I drove clear around the Olympic Peninsula without once sighting the famous Olympic Mountains. Later I did see them from Whidbey Island during a brief, clear moment. Gray skies seem to be the norm. Some of the natives told me this had been an unusually wet spring. Hmmmm.

Olympic Mountains

Olympic Mountains

By coincidence, my trip corresponded in time with the permanent move of my friends, Dick and Dale Snyder, to the San Juan Islands. Dick is a landscape architect, Dale is an accomplished artist, and two more easy-going people you’d have a hard time finding. From my point of view, their approach to everything seems overly casual, but they do seem to have a way of getting things done. So who’s to say. Their laid-back attitude about life makes them easy to be with, and I enjoy their company.

Waterfront Property on San Juan Island

Waterfront Property on San Juan Island

Dick and Dale are a matched pair if there ever was one. They both smile a lot and they have the kind of humor that sneaks up on you. They speak in a measured deliberate fashion which only serves to increase the surprise impact of their humor. A few years prior, they purchased some waterfront property on the opposite side of San Juan Island from Friday Harbor. The property included a small cabin which sits on a short bluff looking out toward Victoria on Vancouver Island.

I had promised to be at their place when they arrived to help them unload. As it was, I arrived a day early, so I set up camp in some trees near the cabin. It was raining hard when I arrived and, since I was going to be there three days, I rigged a tarp and borrowed some electricity.

I had been there once before and knew that on days with good weather it could be a very pleasant place, but this was not one of those days. Wind and rain kept blowing in off the Straits of San Juan de Fuca with such regularity and ferocity that all I could do was hole up and try to keep warm and dry. It was the kind of day to sit by the fireplace with a good book and a snifter of brandy.

The same weather continued all day, all through the night, and into the next morning. I began to envision unloading their moving van in a booming gale. Then, about an hour before they arrived, it stopped just as if a faucet had been shut. The Sun came out, things dried out, and up the driveway came the Snyders and two moving vans. It was like the fanfare before a triumphal entrance. As I said before, the Snyders have a way of getting things done.

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Sunday, September 6th, 2009 Chapters 1 — 10 2 Comments