The Brown Box


Life Mysteries

We have all heard of a black box, a metaphor for an object which can be viewed in terms of its inputs and outputs without any knowledge of its internal components. It is “opaque,” the Biblical “glass darkly” and its contents and workings within can not be seen. In this same way, a home (though brown, tan, and shingled) is a mystery to all who walk by. Its contents and the people within are unknown to passersby-ers.

Oz is fascinate by the shape of things and homes in particular. Homes come in all shapes and sizes. Some are lovingly cared for, some worn down and sadly forlorn.

Oz likes simple homes, plain and boxy though they may be, a cottage in Cannon Beach Oregon, just off the ocean, with a white picket fence and blue hydrangeas in full bloom. These few adornments are the wrappings on a gift to the homeowner.

Many images come to mind when one thinks about a home, a refuge, a safe haven, a castle, a place they have to take you in (if you are a relative), but perhaps the strongest image comes the 1964 ballad recorded by Dionne Warwick and written by the team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David:

…[A] house is not a home
When there’s no one there to hold you tight
And no one there you can kiss good night

Oz, you have learned by now, is a wanderer.  He lives by the saying, “All who wander are not lost,” though now and again Oz gets lost and serendipitously finds something new and exciting.

The Wizard of Oz

You may also have observed that Oz is an illiest, that is, one who speaks of himself in the third person. Some people say that that is a sure sign of narcissism, but Oz thinks that is unfair. After all, isn’t it a way of taking oneself less seriously rather than more-so.

His full name is Oscar Zoroaster Phadrig Isaac Norman Henkle Emmannuel Ambroise Diggs, and he ruled the in The Land of Oz, until one day he hopped into his hot air balloon and left for “parts unknown” (RIP Anthony Bourdain).

Then again, Oz must be part Dorothy, who discovers in his/her travels that, “There is no place like home.



Stairway to Heaven

Stairway at Nye Beach, Newport Oregon

Oz is on vacation on the Oregon coast. The sky is gray, the ocean mist brushes his face and he feels something special.

Jacob left Beersheba a went to Harran to the home of his Uncle Laban, and on the way he stopped to sleep, and as he slept, he dreamt of a stairway to heaven, and then in wonder he beheld the Lord.

Surely, I am in heaven here in Oregon.

Stairway at Nye Beach, Newport Oregon
Stairway at Nye Beach, Newport Oregon

Genesis 28:10-17

Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. There above it stood the Lord, and he said:

“I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought:
“Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it. How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”

Mirror Lake

Mirror Lake Oregon

Mirror Lake – off Oregon Highway 26, a mile outside Government Camp, on the way from Portland to Mt. Hood. Reach the lake by a short hike taking no more than 30 minutes. At the lake, dip your weary feet in the cool water and watch the double vision of Mt. Hood and its reflection.

On the path, the tall pine trees listen silently to the travelers as they pass by.

Continue reading

50 – 50

Portland Pink Rose

Sometimes, important decisions in life can come down to the flip of a coin – a 50/50 chance.

The Portland Penny is an 1835  U.S. copper one-cent piece, used to decide the name of Portland, Oregon, United States. Two immigrants, Francis Pettygrove from Portland, Maine and Asa Lovejoy from Boston, Massachusetts both wanted to name the site, then known as The Clearing, after their respective home towns.

The coin toss was decided in 1845 with two out of three tosses going to Pettygrove.

Since then, Portland has adopted the rose as it symbol – a sign of the hard work that went into making Portland the beauty that it is today. Visit the Portland Rose Garden overlooking the city and providing a view of Mt. Hood in the distance.

Penultimate Trip

At the start of this vacation, Ozzie told the two children that this would be their last trip together. The two children were almost full grown by now. Hannah has graduated from college with a degree in journalism. She has a job interview awaiting her when the vacation is over. Besides, she would probably be married within a year or so, and then start her own family. Will is now a senior in high school and looking at colleges here in Oregon, far far away from Ozland. Kids grow up, parents don’t.

The Columbia Gorge is undoubtedly Oregon’s best known attraction. The gorge was carved out of the volcanic rock by the Columbia River. To the north is Washington State with its many fruit orchards and vineyards. On the south side of the Columbia River, is Oregon in all its splendor. Lewis and Clark traveled down the Columbia River in 1803 laying claim for the United States to the region. The homesteaders who traveled the Oregon Trail finished their journey by climbing down the mountain paths and floating on to the Willamette Valley that begins with Oregon City and Portland.

oneonta gorge

Today one travels the gorge quickly on I-84, an hour or so gets one from Portland to Hood River at the eastern end of the gorge. A slower but better way to travel is along Historic 30. The route is slower but it takes you through the quainter small towns that symbolize Oregon.

Ozzie and the children stopped along Historic Highway 30 at Oneonta Gorge. Multnomah Falls, just to the east, gets more visitors, but Oneonta is more unique. This gorge has eye popping views of granite cliffs climbing vertically 500 feet. The gorge is no more than 50 feet wide at its widest and in spots one can look up into the blue sky and see a tall Oregon pine tree that has tumbled across the  gulf of the gorge making an aerial bridge that only squirrels would dare cross. Many of these same trees did not make the span and fell to the creek below where travelers now use them to scramble on.

The trip up the gorge is not difficult, but it is challenging. And those who make the trip are rewarded by the cascading falls at the end of this gorge. The falls is not as big as Multnomah, it falls 300 feet to a small pool at its base. The hardy traveler braves the cold mist and colder water to swim against the current caused by the fall of water.

Everyone who travels up the gorge feels a sense of accomplishment. It is a character building event. The children who were awed by the uniqueness of the gorge came out of the experience with renewed  confidence. At the same time they had seen a micro climate that is unique to the United States. Ferns clinging precariously to the basalt rocks, mist constantly swirling about, tiny spider webs tucked amongst the rocks trying to capture the many insects that feed off the tiny flowers in the gorge.

After the trip, Ozzie told the children that perhaps this would not be the last vacation together. The Oneonta Gorge was a religious experience, a baptism if you will, and maybe, just maybe, there is hope for more trips in the future. That would make this vacation the penultimate vacation, the one next to last. Or as I prefer to think of the word “penultimate”, the next to best, for the best is yet to be.

zieLog Rolls

West out of Corvallis on Highway 26 toward the Oregon Coast, one passes through the small town of Alsea. There is an old gas station here, the kind that simply says “gas station” and no more. The man working the pumps is amused that we are unfamiliar with the rental car and how to unlock the gas lock. Actually there is no lock so he bemusedly watches for a few minutes as Will searches the dash panel high and low before winking at me and telling me that he is already filling the tank.

One always wonders how someone comes to be in a particular place. Alsea is a one gas station, one convenience store, a few houses, and nothing more town. But, the gas station fellar and the mechanic both loved it there. What is to love? This is not the main highway to the north. It is quiet, off the beaten path, and subject to a few tourists only in the few short summer months when the sun shines. I turns out the the mechanic had come from Montana, the gas fellar from Colorado. Here they both found quiet and a job that paid the bills. Maybe, that is all any of us really wants.

Ozzie wonders whether this found happiness in the remoteness of Alsea is feigned or real. What am I looking for? Is contentment to be found out of the way where life passes you by? Or, is true happiness to be found in the mix that is life?

I suppose that there are two kinds of people in this world. those who are happy with what they have and those who are not. Then, again there is probably a third category of those who are bi-polar, jumping back and forth between happiness and misery. The two mechanics in Alsea represent one end of the extreme, happy in what they have, content to live each day as it comes, occasionally finding a little laughter in the ignorance of tourist who hapopen upon their gas station. As for the rest of us, we will keep looking.

Oregon Coast

Most Corvallians (Is that what you call them?) head directly west to Lincoln City, preferring the glitz of a city with hotels, restaurants, and shops in which to buy kites and the such. We bypassed Lincoln and went directly to Waldport, a much smaller and distinctly less developed tourist spot. South of  Waldport, the coast line again becomes beautiful. Long stretches of sandy beach give way to volcanic outcroppings. One such spot is Devil’s Churn. This narrow defile of basalt rock compresses the waves so that the waves have no where to go but up into the air like a geyser.

Well, this is where the log roll comes into play. Most travelers along Highway 101 south from Lincoln City quickly pass Devil’s Churn by. The road south of Newport winds in and out of the forest , climbing and descending on cliffs and valleys formed from a volcanic eruption millions of years ago. If you don’t keep your eye on the road you can end up in the forest, or worse, off the cliffs and onto the rocks below. This is what happened to

Corvallis Oregon

Corvallis is located in the heart of the Willamette Valley, a fact form which it gets its Latinized name. Corvallis is home to Oregon State University, the Beavers whose colors are black and orange. This small college town borders the Willamette River. The river here moves at a slow pace of three or four miles an hour, about the same pace as the social life of the college.

Willamette River Corvallis

Corvallis and the Willamette River remind me of eastern France in the Lorraine where the Meuse River similarly flows at a slow and steady pace through a mainly agricultural region. Life moves on, in such places, at its own pace.

Pacific City

The Oregon Coast stretches along the Pacific Ocean for over 300 miles. And there are many places along the coast to experience the rugged beauty that is the Oregon Coast. The iconic photograph is of the towering rocks at Canyon Beach to the north, but there are others that have their own unique beauty.

Haystack Rock, Pacific City
Haystack Rock

Haystack Rock at Pacific City is one such place. The rock which sits in the ocean a half mile off the beach isn’t for touring, it is a nature preserve for the many birds that breed there in the spring and summer. But it still is an impressive view with its distinctive jug-handle formed by the separation of a tall column of granite. The shape is more of a tea kettle with a handle than a haystack, but Haystack is the name it was given.

Pacific City has two other features that make it unique. First is a hill that overlooks the beach. The hill is over a football field in length, climbing toward the sky like a giant ladder. And what is best of all is the it is deep sand, so that the young and old make the arduous trip up, a trip which takes ten minutes and give real meaning to the term “muscle burn”. The view at the top is a spectacular view of the blue ocean to the west and the long curve of the Oregon Coast to the north with the white capped breakers crashing on the sandy beaches. After taking in the vistas, the trip back down the hill is a quick series of giant steps through the soft sand. As quick as you can say “Rumplestilskin”, you are back down the hill.

The last and best feature at Pacific City is the sandstone outcropping that stretches out into the ocean. This outcropping is soft sandstone, so that it is rubbed to the texture of sandpaper. Hard as rock, yet crumbly as sand, the outcropping makes for good scrambling, but dangerous climbing. A slip on a narrow path can send a climber tumbling a hundred feet to ocean or to rock. Exploring along the base of the hillock, here and there are caves formed by the pounding of the ocean waves over the years.

Be careful in exploring the base, Will and I almost became rim-rocked. We scrambled down one steep slope to the base on the ocean side. Our hope was to traverse the south side and come out along the beach. But, not knowing the lay of the land, we discovered that the rock we were traversing dumped into the pounding surf and did not allow a path to the beach. Choice number one was a climb along a new route to the top, but this route was untested and dangerous. The second choice was to return to our original descent and hope that we could find a toe hold or two to get us back up. We chose the danger that we knew and retraced our steps.

Getting back up the steep and rocky incline was accomplished with two feats of imagination. First, thinking Bear Gryllis like, I used a pointed stick like a knife to carve a toe hold in the rock where I could. The toe hold was still likely to give way, so the thought was always in my mind that I was ging to find myself back at the bottom in a heap of broken bones. The second trick was to use my hand as a toe hold for Will to hoist himself higher and grab a rock or branch. Eventually, using a combination of these tricks and with a little luck we made our way up.

There we found Hannah. She had been going from one group of climbers to the next, asking if anyone had seen a father and son lost on the rocks.