Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Piggies and Pumpkins

Grunt, snort-snort-snort-snort-snort, gasp, wheeze, slurp, chomp, oink, squeal! Too bad I didn’t take a movie so I could have captured both sight and sound. I’m telling you these pigs were eating with very audible gusto! I think this photo is the perfect metaphor for the way I felt about Halloween when I was a kid. It was the only time of year when I was free to amass as much candy as I possibly could, and you’d better believe I behaved in a fairly swine-like manner, since sweets of all descriptions were pretty much banned every other day of the year.

I recall trying to gobble down as much of the “good candy” (Hershey bars, Nestle Crunch, Snickers, M&Ms, Milky Ways—basically anything chocolate [with the exception of Tootsie Rolls {ick!}])—while still “out in the field.” Once we got home, our bags of candy were weighed (not sure why) and cached in a kitchen cupboard well out of our reach (supposedly). One piece of candy per day was doled out to us by our prison warden mom. It was a minimum-security prison, though, so we did get to choose which piece of candy would be our daily ration.

That meant, of course, that we still had stale, uneaten Halloween candy in February (for crissake!), but only the “gross candy”—those awful orange-and-black peanut butter kisses, Bit-O-Honeys, Mary Janes, sourballs, Bazooka Joe bubble gum. I’m cringing now just thinking about those poor excuses for candy. Who likes them?

Sunday, October 29, 2006

An Heirloom a Day

Newtown Pippins
Originally uploaded by Rozanne.
B has been looking forward for months to the Heirloom Apple Festival that was held this weekend in the Hood River Valley. Me? Not so much. I’m not a huge fan of apples for some reason. This can probably be traced back to my childhood. I’d tell my mom I was hungry and she’d say, “Have an apple,” and haul out one of those economy-size bags of grocery-store apples that were picked months (if not years) earlier. There were usually a minimum of three sizeable bruises per apple and the flesh was mealy and the color of aged newsprint.

Of course, I have long since realized that there are infinitely better apples to be had, especially since we live so close to some of the finest apple orchards in the country. So today I went out to the apple festival with the goal of talking myself into liking apples at least a little bit.

Driving through the Columbia River Gorge to the Hood River Valley put me in a cheerful mood. The Gorge is absolutely incandescent with golden bigleaf maples right now and with today's low, roiling clouds and unsettled weather adding drama it made it, I’ve decided, even more beautiful than the Colorado Rockies with their vaunted aspens. Surely, something this breathtaking can only be the gateway to wonderful apples! Well, maybe not, but that's the kind of frame of mind the Gorge put me in. I know for a fact it made me more susceptible to what was on this table.

Heirloom Apple Samples

There were at least three dozen varieties of apple and some Asian pears to boot! And you know what? Many of them were pretty good, although a few were mealily reminiscent of my childhood.

Possibly I got a little carried away with the tasting, but it is nice to know what you’re letting yourself in for, and I now know what it is I require of an apple: It must be firm, crisp, and juicy; sweet but with a broad hint of tartness.

I probably also got a little carried away when it came to buying apples, but the prices were unbelievably good (39 cents/pound! Cheep!!! as Mad magazine would say), the apples had been grown within (easy) walking distance of where I was standing, and there were many varieties I never see in the grocery store. I bought the following:
  • Newtown Pippin: A variety that dates back to the 1700s and was a favorite of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson (not sure how they know this).
  • Valstar: A newer strain that comes from stock originally from France.
  • Arkansas Black: A variety Jamie mentioned in one of her posts. I was thrilled to see them available here in Oregon. Very tasty.
  • Rubinette: A modern apple from Switzerland, according to this Web site. Actually, I bought these by mistake, and I am quite underwhelmed. Now that I’ve read up on them, I know why. Rubinettes count among their parentage the golden delicious, the most detestable and insipid of all apples.
It’s rather fascinating, though, to find out that A) there is such an incredible variety of varieties and B) apples have a sort of pedigree—just like dogs and racehorses.

Thursday, October 26, 2006


Popularly Priced Cosmetics

This is my Halloween make-up. It’s been sitting on a shelf in the hall closet for about a week, and every time I open that closet I get a little bit excited about getting to wear this stuff. And a little nervous. I haven't really worn any make-up (other than lipstick) since 5th grade when my mom let me wear some seafoam green eyeshadow to school, probably knowing my classmates would taunt me relentlessly and I'd be cured forever of wanting to wear make-up. That's more or less what happened, so I’m quite unpracticed at applying war paint, although I'm also kind of looking forward to it. Maybe I should practice?

Recall that the starting point for my costume a copper lamé evening gown. So I thought I’d play up the coppery thing with some coppery make-up, that is, if I could find some. Not a problem at all. Both Target and Rite Aid had a wide array of shimmery, sparkly, coppery cosmetics—all popularly priced as well. Bonus!

Who knew they made copper-colored lip gloss? I mean it’s great for my Halloween costume, because it’s just fine if I look weird and otherwordly, but who wears this stuff on an everyday basis? I don’t recall ever seeing anyone with coppery lips (the closest would be this Bond Girl), but now I’ll be on the lookout.

Wish me luck with the eyeliner, by the way. I have a notoriously unsteady hand.

Somewhat related. Maybe this video is all over TV or all over the Internet, but I saw it for the first time today, and I can’t stop thinking about it. If you haven't seen it, watch it. It’s one minute long.

Dove - Evolution Commercial

I’ve always known that make-up (professionally applied, that is) can make a tremendous difference in a person’s appearance, but, naively, I never realized how much digital retouching is done these days. I mean, the woman starts out looking entirely ordinary, a bit peasanty and earthy even—the equivalent of a wholesome Idaho spud. But by the time they get done jacking up her neck (so creepy!), sliding her eyes around on her face, and whittling away flesh from her jaw, they’ve transformed her into an order of McDonald’s french fries. She’s completely soulless, standardized, and processed. And that's our society's standard of beauty. Really tragic.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Eleven Percent Bob

I spent as much of this weekend outside as I could. The weather was glorious—balmy, breezy, and irrepressibly sunny. The fall color was just superb and the leaves were luminous. On Saturday, I took one of my favorite Portland Hill Walks. I zig-zagged up, up, up through the King’s Heights neighborhood, gaining elevation quickly. It was one of those rare and unusual days when it was warm enough to not need a jacket, but not warm enough to make me sweat, even though it was uphill all the way. It was diamond-clear, too. I could see four snowpeaks: Mt. Rainier, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Hood.

I fell in love with this charming mossy brick walkway in front of someone's home.

Mossy Brick Walkway

Here’s a close-up of one of the bricks. That moss is very highly evolved and patriotic.

American Brick

Moss or fall color, which do I like better? Tough call. Luckily, yesterday I got plenty of both, as I nipped into moss-draped Forest Park, and hiked up to the Pittock Mansion, where the whole city was laid out before me, and Mount Hood seemed (almost) to hover ethereally in the distance.

After soaking up some sun on the Pittock Mansion’s grounds, I headed back down. One of the delightful serendipities of taking these hill walks, I’ve found, is that sometimes people on the street see the book and then stop to tell me that they have the book, too, and that they love it. The book seems to have a real cult following. It’s nice to meet other hardcore walkers who appreciate the book as much as I do.

As I was descending back down through the nearly deserted lanes and terraces in the vicinity of the Pittock Mansion, a mail truck pulled over and the mail carrier asked me if I needed directions. I held up the book and told her I was on a walk. And, what do you know? She told me she has the book, too, and—naturally—loves it. We chatted for a bit and she suggested an alternative route back. I figured, why not? Who knows these twisty, steep, and almost Europeanly narrow streets better than the mail carrier?

She joked that perhaps she should give me some mail to deliver. I laughed and told her that, actually, I’ve always kind of wanted to be a mail carrier (it’s true!). “Oh,” she said, “It’s like the army. At one place I used to work, there were more guys named Bob there than there were women. I counted. It was 11 percent Bob!” She assured me that things were “getting better” at the U.S. Postal Service, which I presume meant that the Bob percentage has dropped dramatically. But isn’t that hilarious? Eleven percent Bob. I liked her. She reminded me a bit of the Marge Gunderson character in Fargo.

I took some fall-color snaps yesterday and also today, when my friend P and I took a long, leisurely ramble through Hoyt Arboretum. (Guess whether any housework or yardwork got done this weekend?) If you are as much a fall-color enthusiast as I am, you may want to check them out. No pressure, but I will insist you admire this.


Saturday, October 21, 2006

Lord Harry Potter of the Rings

B just told me that there’s a movie called Lord Harry Potter of the Rings that's 20 hours long. He let me drone on and theorize for a couple of minutes about how I was sure it would be pretty popular because the Harry Potter fan base overlaps a lot with the Lord of the Rings fan base, but that for me seeing the movie would be akin to torture (slow death by boredom). Then he laughed and told me the movie does not exist (not yet anyway). He just made it up.

Is your reaction one of disappointment or relief?

I read part of the first Harry Potter book, but never finished it. I watched the first Lord of the Rings movie (fast forwarding through much of it) and the first Harry Potter movie, which so failed to engage me that I got up and loitered for ten minutes or so at the concession stand just to kill some time. Watching popcorn pop was more interesting than watching that interminable broomstick game.

Is there something wrong with me? So many of my friends absolutely love Harry Potter and LOTR (and I respect their opinions), and, I’d wager, would gladly wait in line for hours to see Lord Harry Potter of the Rings, should anyone ever make it (and I think it’s only a matter of time). But, honestly, I just cannot see the appeal at all.


Two posts in one day? What's up with that? I'm in training for NaBloPoMo, that's what!


NaNoWriMo is just around the corner, and I’ve been dithering about whether or not to tackle it again this year. I have no great desire to write fiction, but I definitely got something out of doing it. A sense of accomplishment and a catharsis. I’m not famous for follow-through, so the fact that I set myself a goal and achieved it is something in itself.

I’ve not written a lot of fiction. Just three never-finished short stories, two never-finished novellas (that were collaborations with other writers), and the rubbishy NaNo novel. And the thing is, in every single one of them, there’s always a character who is a grotesque caricature of some person I once knew who fucked me over. In my fiction, that character is held up mercilessly to ridicule and then condemned to an ignominious death (or would be if I were ever to finish those unfinished pieces). It’s all about revenge and overfermented anger. Voodoo fiction. Unhealthy.

So rather than spend a month wallowing in anger, I’ve decided that in November I will do the inelegantly but hilariously named NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month. (Shout out to Jane for alerting me to its existence.) Here’s the goal:
No matter what you post - pictures, poems, observations, critiques, or bald-faced lies -- the hope is that the act of putting something of yourself out for the world to see every single day will make writing become a more fluid, natural, and integral part of your day.
I do hope that churning out a post a day (including weekends!) will make my writing “a more fluid, natural, and integral part of [my] day.” And don’t worry, I won’t—no matter how desperate I become—be posting any poems. But hopefully I won’t just be posting a load of twaddle either.


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Hanging Round in Bars

I might be spending every Wednesday evening for the foreseeable future ensconced in Peter’s 19th Hole, a golf-themed bar with nine TVs (count ‘em) and a 6-foot-tall papier mache 1920s-era golfer clad in knickers and round spectacles. He’s chained to the bar to prevent anyone from sneaking out with him. Doesn’t exactly sound like my kind of place, does it? What could the draw possibly be?

Trivia! As longtime readers may remember I once worked at Encyclopaedia Britannica, so wouldn’t it be a given that I’d be good at trivia? Well, um, no. I absolutely suckomucho at Trivial Pursuit. I always seem to know the answers to other people’s questions but never the ones I draw.

Fortunately, Trivia Night at Peter’s is not set up like Trivial Pursuit. I got to work with a team of three smarty-pants friends who fortunately knew a lot more about sports, movies, and contemporary music than I did. But since it’s my blog, I must toot my horn just a tiny little bit and say that when the Trivia Maven passed around a model skeleton and requested that we identify specific bones (including the iliac crest and the zygomatic arch), I kicked ass—much to my surprise.

We came in second out of a field of eight or nine (I think), which sounds pretty good, but to be fair I should say that the team that came in first was not a team of four brains (like ours) but a single solitary guy. In other words—one brain. WTF?!

I know exactly why this trivia contest is so appealing to me. It goes back to my childhood during which I was forced to play one dumbass sport after another (kickball, softball, volleyball, basketball, field hockey) and came out every time an utter failure and embarrassment to my team, a fact which my teammates (who had chosen me last) were always very vocal about pointing out.

So, yeah, it’s refreshing after all these years to discover a competitive endeavor that I’m reasonably good at. What would be even better, of course, is if I could dredge up a kid like Joe Knaack from 6th grade from whatever suburban mall he happens to be working at as a janitor and go head to head with him at trivia.

What Knaack? You didn’t know that Ikebana is Japanese flower arranging? What kind of a retard jag-off loser are you? All this would be screamed at the top of my lungs so that Knaack would be sure not to misunderstand what a terrible handicap he was to the team. Yes. I have issues and damage and festering psychological wounds.

Anyway, I’ll definitely be going back next week, and I’ll be taking B who is a movie trivia champeen from way back. He’ll definitely be an asset to the team. I want to win!

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Preposterous Tat

It’s mail-order catalog season again! A few weeks ago, the Harriet Carter catalog showed up in our mailbox. I have no idea how we got on Harriet’s mailing list, as B and I have certainly never ordered anything from Harriet, nor are we in the demographic they are targeting (senior citizens). Nevertheless, we are always delighted to get the Harriet Carter catalog because of the hours of entertainment it provides. Really, ol' Harriet sells some of the most preposterous tat! I’ve gone ahead and categorized some of the best/worst stuff for everyone’s entertainment/convenience.

Most Malicious Gift You wouldn’t possibly give something this hideous to someone you liked, right? Notice that the male and female masks are essentially the same except that the female version is wearing some ghastly lipstick and has couple of limp hanks of grizzled hair. Despite this corner cutting, the masks still go for $22.98 each.

Most Unnecessary Invention The selling point for this thing is that it's too troublesome and time consuming to boil water. Huh? The copywriter makes matters worse by declaring that the hot dog toaster is a real “wiener.” You know how I feel about that!

Most Sexist Gift There is no equivalent “Granddaughter you are the Apple of my eye!” pillow. So I guess we are to assume that nothing a granddaughter could ever do would be good enough to merit one of these $9.98 pillows from granny or gramps. But hang on, if the granny or gramps is so ding-dong proud of his/her grandson wouldn’t you think that the pillow would be a little more personal, like maybe have the kid’s actual name on it? And I have to wonder what kid is going to be pleased to find this thing under the Christmas tree in lieu of a toy? Question: Why is “Apple” capitalized?

Most Disgusting Gift Nose- and ear-hair trimmers are icky enough. No need to amp up the gross-out factor. My sympathies to the model.

Most Annoying Gift Here’s the copy that goes with it: “Farting slippers 'break wind' as you walk. They’re a gas! Present these sound-off slippers to any 'fart'-u-nate old-timer and get ready for 'explosive' laughter.” The copywriter should be executed for writing that.

Gift Least Likely to Deliver What It Promises The catalog is chockful of dubious items and spurious claims, but I think this item is the most flagrantly deceiving. The claim here is that you can “moisten” a pair of trousers that is too small, insert this “extender” device, and—presto—add 5 inches to the waist size. No way is that going to happen. Another unlikely claim: It won’t harm the clothing.

Most Frightening Gift Again, there are a lot of contenders for this category, but I’m thinking that being confronted with this thing during a middle-of-the-night trip to the bathroom this might cause permanent psychological scarring.

Runner Up for Most Annoying and Most Unnecessary Gift First of all, how much TP do you have to have ready to hand? This mammoth thing holds twenty-freakin’-four rolls! Plus, you know that every time you open or close the bathroom door that thing is going to be flopping around. I’ll bet it falls off on a regular basis as well. Also, it is exceptionally aesthetically displeasing. Beige with a zipper.

It’s actually making me kind of sad to look at all this rubbish and think about who’s being conned into buying it. The senior citizens they're targeting are likely on a fixed income and don't don’t need to be pissing away their savings on this shit.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Oddities and Endities

Hot dogs used to come in a can. Here’s proof—a rusty old Oscar Mayer Wieners can amongst a host of rusty old beer cans in an abandoned miner’s cabin along the Rogue River. I’m glad I never had to eat wieners out of a can. What a grim prospect (har, har ... mining, prospect—get it?) Does anyone call still call hot dogs wieners anyway? I sure as heck don’t. When we were little kids my brother always referred to his penis as his “wiener.” I think that’s explanation enough for my preference for the term hot dog.

Abrupt change of topic:
Lynne requested that I say something about the Grants Pass caveman. Here he is in all his knuckle-dragging glory.

Grants Pass Caveman

What’s the deal? I might not have all my facts straight, but I think that at some point (probably back when hot dogs were still universally known as wieners), city officials in Grants Pass, Oregon, thought it was a good idea to adopt the caveman as the city mascot. (Go figure.) The Oregon Caves are sort of near Grants Pass. Local businessmen wholeheartedly embraced the caveman idea and formed a caveman club, started dressing up as caveman, and staging various troglodytic pranks as a (somewhat baffling) way of promoting Grants Pass. They erected the humongous caveman statue right outside the visitor’s center. I think they’ve come to regret that choice, because they have planted a ton of trees around the statue, so that now the caveman can only be seen from an ever dwindling number of vantage points. Eventually, he’ll be totally obscured by foliage.

Yet another even more abrupt change of topic. I’m currently in the process of going blonde—the only color (apart from goth black) my hair has never been. It is a multistage process that is being carried out over a period of several months by NASA (kidding). My understanding is that my stylist, M, is doing it this way, because my hair has so much color (dye, that is) in it already that it just can’t be done in one fell swoop without risking disastrous consequences.

The process started about six weeks ago, with M putting a modest number of blonde highlights in my hair. A few days ago, she put a whole bunch more in. It’s noticeably blonder, but there’s still definitely brown in there. However, as I see more and more blonde hair on my head, I’m starting to freak out a bit. I’m not sure that this going-blonde caper of mine is the very best idea I’ve ever had. I have brown (some people say hazel) eyes. And my eyebrows are dark brown. When the whole process is complete will the combo be so jarring that I end up looking like Groucho Marx? That is not the effect I hope to achieve. As always, I’m attempting the impossible, pinning my hopes to a hairstyle/hair color as a means of slapping away the ravaging hand of time. On the other hand, beauty experts (so called) say that as a woman ages it’s not a bad idea to go lighter with the hair. (NB: I made the decision to go blonde during the run-up to my recent birthday.) But the question is: Am I in the process of going too far?

To add to today’s insecurities, I got invited to a Halloween party. I never have any decent ideas for Halloween costumes, so I fired off an e-mail to my clever-drawers sister, knowing she’d be able to help me out. Sure enough, she responded almost immediately with the suggestion that I go as Gloria Swanson from Sunset Boulevard or Edina Monsoon from Absolutely Fabulous. At first, I was quite enthused about the idea of going as Eddy. What fun I’d have trolling Goodwill for abominable, unflattering ill-fitting clothes and then incessantly calling everyone at the party “Sweetie, dahling” all while swilling Bolly (or whatever happens to be available).

But then I thought, “Wait a ding-dong minute. Just what kind of suggestions are these? My sister is telling me to dress up either as a delusional crepe-skinned has-been or as a self-absorbed boozehound with the worst fashion sense in Britain? What is the subtext here? Why does she think that these would be good choices for me? Is she suggesting that I’m already more than halfway there? That age-wise it’s just a simple matter of some lavishly applied pancake and lipstick (to land my ass on Sunset Boulevard) or that fashion-wise it’s a simple matter of tugging on a pair of leopardskin leggings (a size or two too small) and donning a Cat-in-the-Hat hat and I will be Eddy Monsoon?” I don’t like what she’s insinuating, consciously or not. To be fair, she did hasten to add that I was too young to be Gloria Swanson, although she still suggested it, so WTF?

Anyway, I’ve cooled considerably on my sister’s suggestions. I feel like I should perhaps try to go for something sexy and vampish while there’s still a ghost of a hope I can pull it off before that ravaging hand of time smacks me down for good. Maybe a sort of Elvira/Vampira thing? In fact, I just this very minute extracted from the closet a copper lamé evening gown (yes, I own such a garment) that I wore once (and only once) to a wedding ~10 years ago. It still fits! I knew there was a reason I carefully transported it 2,000 miles to Oregon! OK. B has just informed me that vampiresses have to wear black. Is that correct? Anyway, copper lamé—I'm building my costume around it. I just have to figure out who (or what) might wear copper lamé and take it from there.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Hiking In and Out of Hell

Infernal Wonderland

“Don’t let this infernal wonderland become your hell,” warned signs along the Bumpass Hell Trail in Lassen Volcanic National Park. The trail is named after one Kendall Bumpass, a 19th-century adventurer who discovered Lassen’s hot springs, fumaroles, mudpots, and steam vents and was eager to exploit its mineral resources and develop it as a tourist attraction.

One day he was showing some visitors around. He cautioned them not to get too close to the volcanic features. No sooner were the words out of his mouth than the brittle crust around a mudpot collapsed and one of his legs slid in. The leg was so hideously burned it had to be amputated. It wasn’t even the first time he’d ventured too close and plopped into a mud pot. I hope he finally learned his lesson.

Today, there are warnings all over the place reminding visitors of Bumpass’s dumbassedness and mentioning important facts such as the 322° F temperature of the hydrothermal features and the extreme acidity of the noxious bubbling, blue-green pools, but, incredibly, I still saw people reaching their hands toward boiling streams and sticking their heads within inches of steaming sulfur vents. I didn’t see anyone’s face peel off or arm get hard-boiled, but I’m sure it happens—frequently.

For those of you who have broadband, here’s a movie of some exciting hydrothermal action. For verisimilitude, imagine you’re breathing in lungfuls of pure sulfur. Very, um, bracing.

Seriously, it was way cool to see all this stuff. Scientists say that of all the mountains in the Cascades, Lassen Peak is the most likely to blow next. I believe it.

I really enjoyed watching these mudpots gurgle, too.

Mudpot at Lassen Peak Volcanic Park

Not sure if this is the one that exacted such a high price from Bumpass. It might have been. I do think the mud bubbles are the most splendid shade of gray.

We also saw these things, which were belching a ton of fetid steam at us and making a racket like an off-kilter washing machine. Freaky! They were too high up to peer into, but if I could have looked into them, I wouldn’t have been a bit surprised to see half a dozen devil suits churning around inside. It wasn't called the Devil's Laundromat, but it should have been.

I would have loved to have been able to find a place to stay near Lassen so that we could have done more than one hike (wah!), but it was not to be.

We drove back into Oregon and booked into a Comfort Inn in Grants Pass. The room was scrupulously clean, large, bright, and cheery. The furniture was all new and the décor tasteful. (No 10-cent garage-sale masterpieces here!) It had a coffee maker (thank god!), a spacious, sparklingly clean bathroom with a shower that produced hot water instantly—in a variety of spray patterns. The list of amenities goes on. It was downright swanky! It was actually a little nicer than the Hilton I stayed in on my last business trip. A Comfort Inn. Go figure. And the room rate? Only two dollars more than the shit-ass Ashland Motel. Harrumph!

Now Grants Pass is not exactly a tourist mecca, but it is a nice little unpretentious town—in short, the opposite of Ashland. It’s surrounded by the Siskiyous, and it's right on the Rogue River. I liked Grants Pass so much, I even bought a somewhat dorky Grants Pass mug. (Tangent: I’m too lazy at the moment to go take a picture of the actual mug [which is probably in the dishwasher] so I tried to Google one. I typed “Grants Pass mug” into the Google image search engine and got this, a whole page of Grants Pass yearbook photos from, for some reason, 1982. Hilarious! They do look like mug shots, especially the one of Paul Carlson. Where are you now Paul?)

We spent most of the rest of our vacation in Grants Pass. While the hiking may not be knock-your-boots-off spectacular, I thought the area was lovely. I especially liked the diversity of trees in southern Oregon. And I developed a bit of an obsession over peely-bark trees, e.g., the stunning Port Orford cedar and the delectable madrones. Neither grows in northwestern Oregon, so it was a treat for me to see them.

Super Peely Madrone

Bare-Armed Madrone

Are madrones gorgeous or what? I love how the outer bark peels away in slender, parchmenty curlycues—rather like cinnamon sticks—to reveal a silky smooth “underbark” the color of Mexican hot chocolate. At one point I was in a grove of madrones and I could actually hear them shedding their bark. I felt like I had discovered some secret forest rite. I made B stop and listen.

Madrones may supplant the western hemlock as my favorite tree. I probably took 50 photos of madrones, and, of course, was unable to do them justice. As I said, obsession. I found out later that John Daniel, author of The Rogue River Journal, shares my madrone obsession. He says that the madrone is the only tree he desires to eat. I totally get that.

To think, too, that had we remained in Ashland, we might not have taken the two hikes we took along the Rogue River. The Wild and Scenic Rogue River, I should say, as that is its official federal designation.

Rogue River from on High

The hikes we took were along the tops of the cliffs that edge the Rogue. Unbelievably, we had the trail pretty much to ourselves. It was thrilling to look down at the moss-green Rogue from such heights and watch it change from lazy placidity to raucous turmoil. We stopped and ate lunch at the rapids known as Rainie Falls and kept our eyes riveted to it. We saw a couple of steelhead flip themselves out of the water and launch headlong into the falls. Whoa! I have so much respect for those fish. How optimistic—and a little bit insane. I have no idea if they were successful. And even if they were, they still had to run the gauntlet of fishing boats and rafts. Good luck to them.

Speaking of fishing and speaking also of insane behavior, we saw this guy, a young father, wheeling a freakin’ wheelbarrow loaded with heavy fishing tackle down the narrow (e.g., 2 feet wide), rocky, steep, treacherous-in-every-way, trail, with—get this—his two small children in front of him. That’s right. Say he lost control of the wheelbarrow—a very real possibility—it would have plowed right into the kids and knocked them over the cliff. That guy was really using his noggin. And why weren’t his kids in school? It was a Tuesday.

One last thing, and then I have to get to my yoga class. We saw carnivorous plants! A whole hillside full of cobra lilies.

Cobra Lilies

I’ve always wanted to see carnivorous plants in situ and these were some primo specimens. Here’s what they get up to, if you’re interested. They are cunning and devious and bloodthirsty, are they not?

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Motel Hell

Our vacation got off to a rough start. After one day in Ashland, Oregon, we fled. B pronounced Ashland a “bullshit town.” B’s not one for manufactured charm and quaint shoppes that reek of granny bouquet. We were there to hike so charm was of little use to us, yet we still paid for it. I wouldn’t have minded paying a bit extra if our hotel—the Ashland Motel—was actually nice, but it was an absolute shit hole. Don’t believe me? Get a load of this.

No bathtub, just an abattoir-like shower stall. Note the chipped enamel and the mildewy grout.
Ashland Motel, Ashland, OR

Faucet installed by wantonly bashing a hole into the mustard-hued tile with, presumably, a sledgehammer.

Ashland Motel, Ashland, OR

Wonky toilet seated on a rotting floor. Every time I sat on it, it sank about half an inch lower. It’s a wonder I didn’t plunge into the room below mid-pee!

Ashland Motel, Ashland, OR

10-cent art from a garage sale, hung at a height of 3.5 feet from the floor.

Ashland Motel, Ashland, OR

One example of the assorted smudges, scuffs, and chipping plaster to be found in numerous places in the room.

Ashland Motel, Ashland, OR

It was depressing, dreary, and dilapidated—and they charged $75 a night. Outrageous. I’ve stayed in cheap-ass Motel 6s that were much better and 30 bucks less. B and I arrived late in the evening and, bad as the Ashland Motel was, were in no mood to attempt to find another room in ever-popular Ashland. Somehow we talked ourselves into thinking it wasn’t that bad. We went out to dinner. Then we came back and I tried to take a shower in the abattoir. No hot water. Fuck!!!!!!!!!! Figuring that the faucet had probably been installed backwards, I turned it all the way in the cold direction. More frigid water.

It was about 9:30 PM. I got on the phone to the front desk and demanded that we be given another room. The woman at the desk said she wasn’t allowed to do that (load o’ crap), but that what she could do is come up and “check.” What kind of ‘tude is that? Like she thinks I’m lying. Can you imagine that happening at a Super 8 or even a Motel 6? Anyway, fuming, I threw on some clothes and up she came. She was half my size and half my age, which, nevertheless, did not stop her from incessantly referring to me as “dear.” She was also notable for being the only person I’ve ever seen with a French pedicure. It looked weird and incongruous with her platform flip-flops.

With her was some sort of hapless “handyman.” They marched into the bathroom and turned the water in the abattoir on full blast. For some reason, Frenchie Feet turned on the water in the sink, which hit the edge of the sink with such force that it splashed out onto the floor.

About five splashy minutes later they had gotten the ancient plumbing to cough up some hot water. Frenchie Feet scoldingly told me that it was an old motel and I should have known to let the water run for “five, six minutes” before assuming there was no hot water. C’mon.

They left. The bathroom floor was absolutely awash, and the skimpy allotment of rough and no-longer-absorbent fourth-hand towels was totally inadequate to sop up all the water. I took the record-breaking navy shower (less than a minute) in the icky shower. Who wants to spend time in an abattoir? B followed suit.

We resolved to leave the next morning even though we were booked in for a few days there, and Frenchie Feet had hinted that there might be some difficulties about canceling the booking. The nerve! Well, fuck that. The next morning as were packing up, the phone rang. “Hello, dear.” It was Frenchie Feet. Yeah, even though B and I had both quarreled with her she was still calling me dear. A girl who looked to be about 20—WTF?

Anyway, she told me the owner was there, if I wanted to talk to him, but I’d better hop to it, and get my ass down there because he had an important meeting (yeah, right) soon. Defiant to the end, that Frenchie Feet. Somehow, I didn’t feel like arguing or complaining—too shagged out from the ordeal with Frenchie Feet the night before. I just told the owner we were leaving and wanted a refund for the nights we weren’t staying. I didn’t even tell him how much his motel sucked. He gave me the refund, and asked no questions. I gather he may be rather used to cancellations, once people get a look at his motel’s substandard rooms.

It was foggy and drizzling as we peeled out of the Ashland Motel’s, parking lot, tires squealing (figuratively if not literally). We couldn’t get out of Ashland fast enough. Our experience at the motel had soured us on the town. And it really wasn’t such a great base for hiking either, as it turned out. We barreled down I-5, headed south toward sunny California, armed only with a map of California and a copy of the Moon Travel Handbook: Northern California, which I presciently had brought with me. (Later, I was to discover that it was hopelessly out of date.)

Our spirits began to lift almost immediately as we emerged from the rain and fog surrounding Mt. Ashland and descended into dry chaparral. “Look there’s the Klamath River! There’s Mt. Shasta—snowy and huge!” We felt a million times better. In the motel room that morning, we’d decided that we’d head for Lassen Volcanic National Park and spend a few days hiking trails that explore boiling hot springs and gurgling mudpots. It was one of the few areas in Northern California not affected by forest fires, and it wasn’t so very far away. We were stoked. On the map Redding, California looked to be reasonably close and looked like it would be a good place to base ourselves. The Moon guide assured us it had a range of motels and hotels and surely it would have some decent restaurants as well. And microbrew.

We rolled into Redding in the early afternoon. Temperatures were in the 90s.

This is my impression of Redding, California. Pawn shop, tattoo parlor, exit to freeway, pawn shop, tattoo parlor, exit to freeway, pawn shop, tattoo parlor, exit to freeway. We finally found the Redding Visitor Center but by that time B was completely fed up and ready to get back on I-5 and drive all the way back to Portland. He sat in the car and broiled, while I tried to extract some information from the Visitor Center lady, who was really nice, but had absolutely no idea how to help us. It seems the Visitor Center’s primary raison d’etre is to sell tickets to the various performances given by various third-rate performers at the nearby Win River Casino. And since I wasn’t there to buy tickets to see Lisa Marie Presley (bound to be horrifying), she just didn’t know what to do with me. Hiking? What’s that?

I went back to the car and consulted the Moon guide. We’d driven all that way and were clearly in the midst of a beautiful area (the blot on the landscape that is Redding, notwithstanding), so there had be some way to salvage our trip. The Moon guide suggested Chester, California, near the southern boundary of Lassen Volcanic Park. It claimed it was good place to stay if you wanted to explore Lassen; it had midrange motels and a couple of decent restaurants. It meant more driving—I hate driving—but there was nothing for it.

B napped and I drove another 50 miles of winding road lined with somewhat monotonous ponderosa pines. Every once in a while I’d get a glimpse of glaciated Lassen Peak, the southernmost mountain in the Cascades, and take courage.

An hour or more later, we entered the park. It was like we’d miraculously been transported to the Alps. It was staggeringly beautiful, but worry over whether or not Chester would have motel rooms and anger and frustration about simply driving through the park and whizzing past all the beckoning trailhead signs kept me from fully enjoying it. I found myself wishing we’d get the hell to the end of the park (which turned out to be 22 miles long) and that is just so wrong. Once out of the park, it was another 20 or more miles to Chester, which translates to about 50 minutes of driving on winding mountain roads.

We arrived in Chester around 5:00 PM and what did I see but a freshly minted Best Western! We were saved! Best Westerns rock—they have standards and policies. Standards that require that the shower faucet be installed with something other than a sledgehammer. Policies that state that they will not insinuate that their guests are idiots when they can’t supply hot water in a timely fashion. And it was a Thursday in late September. Not a weekend. Not the high season. Surely they’d have plenty of rooms.

No dice. The Best Western was all booked up. How could that be? There’d hardly been anyone else at Lassen Park. It was the emptiest national park I’ve ever seen. “Hunting season, I guess,” the girl at the desk hazarded. I guess that would explain it, but don’t hunters do the RV thing? The town of Chester was certainly a nothing town otherwise. Lassen seemed to me to be the only real draw but no one had been there. A mystery. Even more of a mystery was the fact that we drove past two fairly scuzzy looking motels that had the “Sorry No Vacancy” sign blazing. More hunters? I began to feel desperate and panicky. There wasn’t another town within an hour’s drive and I was oh so sick of being in the car. Plus, the next town was described by the Moon guide as “redneck” and was, as far as I was concerned, not viable as a base for Lassen—much too faraway and, for all I knew, chock-a-block with hunters.

We pulled into a place called the Seneca Motel. It looked fairly marginal. There was one room left, $65 plus tax. I asked to see it. The woman at the desk seemed a little nonplussed by my request but reluctantly handed over the key. No more than 30 seconds had passed before the woman popped her head in the door and demanded to know if we were going to take the room or not. I hadn’t properly had a chance to look around, but I could tell that the room wasn’t great. But the thought of getting in the car and driving to Redneckville didn’t appeal. I said we’d take it.

We went back to the office. Only after my credit card had been processed and approved was I handed the remote for the TV. That’s the kind of place it was. The kind of place where people swipe the remote.

We began unloading our stuff into the room. It soon became clear to me that the room was even worse than the Ashland Motel. I snapped a few photos.

Worthless antique “coffee maker” (nothing more than a hotplate, really), wedged inconveniently under the medicine cabinet over the bathroom sink. A laughable attempt at an “amenity.”

Seneca Motel, Chester, CA

Hideously scorched and filthy heating vent.

Seneca Motel, Chester, CA

“Headboard” made of particleboard superglued to wall and covered with woodgrain-look contact paper, a scrap of which has been peeled away by a bored or angry previous guest.

Seneca Motel, Chester, CA

A constellation of cigarette burns on the vinyl flooring in the bathroom.

Seneca Motel, Chester, CA

Soon after taking possession of the room, I sat down on the sagging mattress and cried for about 20 minutes. Our vacation was in ruins! Everything was going wrong. And we’d driven hundreds of miles for nothing. Guilt, anger, frustration, despair!

I took a shower—another scary quick one—and slowly began to recover my sense of humor. We’d stay here one night and at least get one hike in at Lassen the next day and then maybe just go home or maybe, just maybe, we’d figure something else out.

B took a shower and we headed out to find some dinner. As we walked past the room next door to ours we couldn’t help but notice a hot-pink Post-It attached to the door. “Crystal—Call your parole officer ASAP!”


Actually, things began to look up, starting that evening. Of course, all the nice restaurants listed in the Moon guide were no longer extant, but we managed to find a homey Mexican restaurant outside of which were parked four pickups full of chainsaws.

The place was full of Mexican lumberjacks! We actually had to wait for a table, but the food was really good. I had the best chile relleno I’ve ever had in my life, and they mixed up a pretty darn good (and potent) Margarita too, which we both totally needed. As we were waiting for our table, I happened to notice some real estate brochures. I idly flipped through one only to find that homes in the area go for $1.8 million. Now I’m here to tell you that Chester, California, has nothing to recommend it as far as I can tell. It’s close (sort of) to Lassen Peak, but you can’t see the peak from the town. Except for the Best Western the town is down-at-heel and makeshift. I saw absolutely no signs of affluence in the town proper. Yeah, it’s got a lake, and I guess those $1.8 mil. homes were near the lake, but so what? I saw the lake. It wasn’t anything special. Is it just that it’s California and property is just that outrageously expensive everywhere?

Anyway, we got back to the grungy motel and knew there was only one thing we could do that evening, given our circumstances—and that one thing was: Watch Meet the Fockers on TV. Might as well make use of that remote! The movie was preposterous and not all that funny, but my standards had been so lowered by that point that I quite enjoyed it.

And now I must confess to some really pathetic passive-aggressive behavior. Just before we left the motel, I scribbled, "This is a shitty motel." on a scrap of paper and tucked it inside the front cover of the Gideon Bible. That made me feel better and just a tiny bit vindicated. I wonder if anyone will ever find it?

Sorry for all the irate whinging and the insanely unnecessary length of this post, but I just had to get it all out of my system. The next post will be about the rest of the vacation, which was actually quite nice.

I learned some valuable lessons, though, from the Ashland/Chester debacle.

1. I need to accept partial blame for not adequately researching or planning the trip. I really have been so busy with work this summer, I didn’t have a lot of time to devote to thinking about vacation. I kind of winged it last year on our trip to eastern Oregon and it worked out great. So when this little window of vacation time came up, I felt I had to seize it. I assumed it would be as easy to find decent accommodations in southern Oregon and northern California as it was in eastern Oregon. Never assume!

2. I really, really loathe driving for hours on end. It’s OK to drive a longish distance to get to a destination, but once there I like to stay put and make only short drives to trailheads. It makes me really cranky to have to pack everything up and drive hours and hours to a new place each day. Ideally, I’d like to find a lodge or cabin or something (with a good restaurant) that has hiking trails right outside the door. I’ve stayed at places like that in Italy. It was heavenly.

3. I need to realize that many of the places I’d like to hike are probably more suited to backpacking. Remote wilderness places derive their special qualities from the fact that there aren’t a lot of hotels and restaurants plonked right next to them. Duh!