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November 5, 2018 / annakpf11

What We Need is Here

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“And we pray, not for new earth or heaven, but to be quiet in heart, and in eye, clear. What we need is here.”  Wendell Berry (1934— ), American farmer, poet, essayist, novelist, and environmental activist.

It is September. Schools are back in session, the weather has veered toward autumnal, and we expect to find plenty of available campsites on our journey to the Pacific Northwest. We have not made a single campground reservation, intentionally leaving our day-to-day travels unscripted, our fate as open as a wide blue sky.

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In keeping with our theme of nonchalant spontaneity, we begin our journey with a relaxed, mid-afternoon departure and a side trip to Cloverdale, where we stroll around a vintage car show before checking into Thousand Trails RV Campground. The prime campsites, located within stone-skipping distance of the Russian River, are all taken, but after navigating a labyrinth of dry, oak-pocked hillside (the touted 1,000 trails?) we manage to claim a reasonably level patch of ground for the night.

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Unseasonably warm weather (stifling, in fact), and road noise from a two-lane thoroughfare abutting our campsite inspire us to nudge Suzy into the shade, turn on the air conditioning, take a nap (Dave), and make kale and quinoa salad (Anna).

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By dinnertime, the outside temperature cools enough to enjoy an al fresco meal of lamb chops braised in bone broth with white beans and fresh thyme. At bedtime, we fall sleep with windows open to the spicy scent of bay leaves, and any stray breeze that might find its way in.

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The next morning we continue traveling north, exploring small towns along the way to Arcata, and the home of dear friend, artist and sister-outlaw (technically ex-sister-in-law), Anna.

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She shows us around her house and recently completed art studio, strategically placed to preserve an existing garden shed and two mature Kadota trees. In fig season, Anna assures us, the trees provide abundant quantities of sweet, green-skinned, pink-fleshed fruit.

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As Dave and I often do, we consider what it might be like to live in this part of the world. Seated around the dine-in kitchen table with Anna, we swap updates, share memories and imagine possible futures.

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A glass of Zinfandel, a frothy, blue-veined goat cheese, seeded crackers, fresh peach and mint salsa precede a simple dinner of homemade corn chowder accompanied by a salad of organic greens so fresh they might’ve been harvested an hour ago. For dessert, Anna has concocted an irresistible peach and nectarine crumble. Later, despite her offer of a bedroom, we are content to sleep in Suzy, parked at the curb outside. This is a camping trip, after all.

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Before departing Arcata, we make time for a marshland walk, a stroll around the main square, grocery shopping at the local cooperative market, and a cursory investigation of the local real estate scene. We gather impressions and file them away. We vow to return. Preferably during fig season.

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Late morning, we regain the road and drive to Patrick’s Point, a forested state park perched above a breath-taking stretch of rugged coastline.

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We’ve been here before and camped overnight, but today we simply enjoy a picnic lunch and a hike along the cliff trail.

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Turning inland, Redwood Highway 199 takes us on a spectacularly scenic and also rather hair-raising ride along the Smith River. The winding route alternates between a nail-biting ribbon of road clutching the steep side of a gorge above a rock-churning maw, and a tree-shaded country lane overlooking the stillness of green river pools.

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It is Monday, it is off-season, and we expect we’ll easily find a campsite for one night at Jedediah Smith State Park. “Sorry,” the ranger at the gatehouse informs us, “We’re full.” We drive on, our insouciance slightly dented, and a few miles later come upon a roadside clearing rather grandly named ‘Redwood Meadows RV Resort’. Plenty of vacancies. Less scenic than Jedediah Smith Park, and no footpath leading to the Stout Redwood Grove, but never mind. We secure a flat site and set off with Suzy to visit the ancient giants.

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In their presence, we speak in hushed and reverent tones. A soft cushion of mulch absorbs our footfalls. Some of these trees have been here for over a thousand years, quietly growing since Viking ships roamed northern seas. The oldest have names: El Viejo del Norte, Aragorn, Elwing, Fangorn.

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I bend backward, my gaze sweeping up wide girths and rough trunks, some rising more than 300 feet above the forest floor. It seems entirely possible that these trees possess soul, and that a shared field of consciousness envelops us all.

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Finger-numbing cold greets us the next morning. Happily, Suzy’s Alde hydronic heating system is reliable, quiet and efficient. After a quick breakfast of muesli and banana (Dave), hardboiled egg and apple (Anna), we get off to an early start, rejoin Highway 199 and cross the border into Oregon.

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Every road seems to run alongside a river, and every river flows swift and full, even as summer ends. Saffron and rust-tinted leaves brighten evergreen-clad hills, and in the valleys, apple trees line the roadside, their branches laden with fruit.

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At Grant’s Pass, we merge onto Highway 5, a four-lane, north-south conduit packed with big rig trucks, RV’s and passenger vehicles. We travel for 100 miles on this road, through hills and valleys, past fields and farms.

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Before we reach Eugene, clouds mass overhead, and rain pelts Suzy’s windshield, but the sun reappears by the time we reach the laid-back college town. Our first stop is an auto-supply store (Suzy’s digital dashboard began alerting us to a BlueDef fluid deficit about 200 miles ago), and our second is MacKenzie River Music, “one of the best vintage guitar shops on the planet”, attests Dave, at the same time promising that he isn’t going to buy anything; he’s merely popping in for a browse. Somehow, neither of us is surprised an hour later when he emerges with a sheepish grin and a new acoustic guitar. (For any guitarists reading this, it’s a Martin D41.)

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Eugene makes a good impression. We take note of the generous number of bookstores, brewpubs and organic markets, the absence of traffic jams, and the prevalence of architecturally interesting buildings, flower and vegetable gardens. Perhaps we’ll return for a month in summer, escaping the season of fog and wind that compelled Mark Twain to declare that the coldest winter he ever knew was summer in San Francisco. Meanwhile, it is time to find a place to camp for the night.

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Unwilling to repeat the previous day’s experience of being turned away for lack of an available campsite, we ring ahead to a county park eight miles north of town, pre-pay by credit card, and hope for the best.

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Located on a shallow bluff above the MacKenzie River, Armitage County Park turns out to be a tree-shaded refuge offering all we could hope for and more. Most of the park is designated for daytime use, and when we arrive, an hour or so before daylight fades, we practically have the leafy acreage to ourselves. We unstrap our bikes and pedal alongside the river, carefree as kids at play.

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The next morning we resume our northward trajectory, stopping along the way to visit another college town, Corvallis, home to Oregon State University. Rain mists quiet downtown streets as we cruise the central district. We park Suzy under a billboard featuring a (presumably) local poet, pull on raincoats and set off on foot to explore.

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At the Corvallis Book Bin, a cooperative emporium of used and new books, we spend an hour combing through the stacks, and each of us comes away with an armful of bargain literary finds. At the outdoor Farmer’s Market, we buy fresh-picked kale and wild chanterelle mushrooms, nicely rounding out our sausage and potato supper plan.

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Perhaps because its population ebbs and flows according to the academic year, Corvallis seems to teeter between downturn and upswing. Nevertheless, there’s something appealing about the scale and vibe of this place. Less liberal than Eugene, less hipster than Portland, and much smaller than both, Corvallis feels accessible, friendly. I wonder if liberals and conservatives manage to live side-by-side without conflict here, finding common ground in their shared humanity. I’d like to believe that they do.

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Where shall we stop tonight? Each day we solve this puzzle anew, some days more successfully than others. In the wine-growing region north of Corvallis, we try our luck with Harvest Host, a phone app that identifies which wineries allow self-contained camping vehicles to park overnight.

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A plum-lined lane leads to the family-owned Laurel Ridge Winery, and a cheerful young woman welcomes us into the tasting room. A handful of people, obviously locals, are gathered at the bar, sharing stories and sipping glasses of wine, and the atmosphere feels friendly, almost like a village pub.

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The smiling woman introduces herself as the manager and vintner’s daughter, and when we explain that we are members of Harvest Host, she instantly invites us to park our rig overnight. We order an antipasto plate and a sample flight of wine (encouraged, but not required), and after tasting several varietals, we buy two bottles to take away, a Pinot Gris and a Pinot Noir.

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A rogue cloud unleashes needle streaks of rain just as we climb back inside Suzy and slam the door. We stay warm and dry, but the storm sounds like a herd of panicked cattle are trampling the roof.

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Eventually, the stampede diminishes to a sporadic tapping. A rainbow appears outside our windscreen, arcing across the valley. And then all is silent. Sleeping in a vineyard, we decide, is an excellent solution to the daily riddle of where to spend the night.

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The next evening, we are turned away from three campgrounds (no vacancies) before we finally come to a stop at ‘Rest-A-While Campground—a misnomer if there ever was one—a slim strip of pavement separating Highway 101 from the Hood Canal. Rain spits at the windshield as we slot Suzy into a tightly packed row of bus-sized RV’s. On a positive note, compared to the mammoth rigs on either side of us, Suzy’s 24-foot chassis looks positively petite.

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First thing in the morning, we head north along the filigree coastline of the Olympic Peninsula, searching for a campground where we might actually want to “rest-a-while”. We are looking for a place with access to walking trails, away from busy roads, and that does not require wedging Suzy into the middle of an RV sandwich. Our quest involves investigating and rejecting (or being rejected by) a handful of campgrounds before we discover Flagler County Park, 1,451 acres of shoreline and forest on the tip of Marrowstone Island, across the water from Port Townsend.

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Here is a place, I think, where we can take time to enter the landscape, to move over the earth at a human pace, feet treading soil and sand, the natural world opening to meet us.

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Fingers-crossed, we approach the gate and are relieved when the ranger assures us there are plenty of campsites. He also confirms that a cougar has been sighted in the park. “If you walk in the woods, you might see her,” he cautions. “Just make a lot of noise and act big. Whatever you do, don’t run away.” He shrugs. “You’ll probably be fine.” Maybe so, but I resolve to stick to the beach and bluff trails; no need to venture into the dense curtain of forest that is the lady lion’s domain.

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We set up camp in a grove of trees near the beach. Birds swoop between tree branches like miniature trapeze artists.

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I follow a footpath through a lacy border of Alder to a long curve of shoreline. Driftwood makes a comfortable seat, and a cloak of autumn sunshine warms my shoulders. Peace seeps into every cell.

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The park occupies land used as a military base from 1899 until 1953, and a walk along the bluff trail reveals abandoned gun emplacements that once stood guard over the coast. Many of the disused structures are open to the public, but I do not pause to examine the artifacts of war.

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I collect sea-washed stones, and gaze at clouds across the sound. I forage for fat, ripe blackberries, and eat them straight from the bramble.

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I cross the open ground of a tawny field, woodland on one side, water on the other, and sense movement in the air overhead. A bald eagle, wingspan as broad as the tallest of men, glides past. I stop and stand where I am, solitary witness to the slow, weighted wing-beats, the bright, feathered head, the raptor beak. This is a gift. It is a blessing. The eagle disappears over a ridge of treetops, but I do not move until the sensory memory has reached into the soft, convoluted folds of my brain and left its mark.

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Time spent in nature is as nourishing to the spirit as food is to the body, and after two days in Flagler County Park we feel replenished, ready to reclaim the road to Canada.

 

2 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. Rebecca Riley / Nov 5 2018 1:20 am

    Beautifully written and photographed. Thank you for sharing. Xo b

  2. Arch Meredith / Nov 5 2018 1:28 am

    Great fun to share your adventures, Anna. As ever, you are a gifted writer (and photographer!)… Here’s wishing you safe and delightful travels. Arch

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