Watching from afar

I’m a stealth fireworks watcher. Just about every year, I watch at least one display, but I rarely pay admission and I don’t join the crowds in the official seating area, even when it’s free. What usually happens is this: I decide that this year I don’t need to see fireworks in person. Heck, they’re on every other channel on TV. However, as I start hearing popping noises outside, I start itching to go outside. As predictable as “Stars and Stripes Forever,” I’m heading out the door at the last minute, thinking, I’ve got to see some fireworks.

I have watched fireworks from bridges, parking lots, decks, porches, and my parents’ front lawn. It’s not that I’m not willing to pay for a show. It’s that I hate crowds, and every year I really do think that I don’t mind staying home.

Last night, I really tried. I turned out all the lights, cranked up the volume on the John Philip Sousa songs and told myself I was getting a free show in the comfort of my home. But it wasn’t the same, and Newport’s fireworks extravaganza was about to begin. Pretty soon, I was putting on my shoes. That got the dog all excited. Unlike my previous dogs, Annie is bold when it comes to gunshots, lightning and firework, so I leashed her up. As we headed out, she sat bravely next to me on the passenger seat, her head scanning from side to side with every passing car.

A few years ago, when I was driving toward Yaquina bay, where they shoot off the fireworks here, I saw flashes above the trees and realized that if I parked at the Post Office, I could get a pretty good view. So we parked there again, merging into a row of government vehicles. I slid down in my seat lest a passing police officer grow curious about why one of the cars was occupied. But the dog wouldn’t get down. After all this time screaming “Sit!” at her, that’s all she wanted to do.

At exactly 10:00, the show started. “Look, Annie!” I said. And she looked. From my scooched-down position, I couldn’t see over her head. Dang tall dog. But it didn’t matter anyway. Over the years, some of those trees have grown so high that they blocked most of the fireworks.

It was time to find another location. Quickly. As I drove north, my eyes were more on the fireworks than on the road. I tried a pull-off beside the road. Not bad, but too likely to get me arrested. Then I had an inspiration. Since last year, a new community college was built up the hill a few blocks south of the bridge. The road to the campus was steep. I turned there. Oooh, ooh, good view. A family was parked off to the side, sitting in folding chairs beside their van. But there wasn’t enough room for us, so I kept going. If I went even higher . . . Nuts. The road turned and I lost visual contact. Quick. Turn around. Drive back down the hill. I turned into a driveway that didn’t go anywhere. Nope, electrical towers in the way. A little farther. Another driveway. No, nothing. I turned into a graveled road behind some kind of industrial building. Yes!

We had a perfect view. Annie and I leaned toward the front window, soaking up the colors in the sky. Ooh. Wow. Cool. Starbursts, flowers, weeping willows, rings, spiders. Between blasts of fireworks, I glanced around nervously, rehearsing my speech. “Uh, officer . . .” But maybe they were all on the Bayfront supervising the crowds. One hoped.

Bam, bam, bam-bam-bam-bam-bam. An orgasmic burst of color marked the end of the show. We scooted down the hill and into the line of cars heading south, pitying all those folks who walked a mile and sat for hours waiting to see fireworks. Annie’s eyes, sparkling in the headlights, scanned the sky for more.

Take a look at these tulips


I just love bulbs–not the kind you screw into your lamps, the kind that grow in the ground. They hide under the soil all summer and fall. Just when you’re about to go nuts with too much winter, they pop up and start blooming. You don’t have to do anything. They just keep showing up.

Somebody planted tulip bulbs in my garden long before I moved to this house. I thought I dug all the bulbs out when I started my great gardening plan a couple years ago, but I guess I missed a few. Right now, I’ve got white tulips and some that look like rainbow sherbet. About the time they start to fade, the wild poppies will appear. Later in the year, if I’m lucky, the gladiolas will bloom. What a gift for someone who gardens about once every six months.

Some folks are more serious about tulips. The town of Woodburn, OR, about 45 minutes from Portland, hosts an annual tulip festival in April. I know, we missed it. Mark your calendars for next year. (But we’re in time for the rhododendron festival, which happens May 21-23 in Florence, OR.)If you’d like to get your own tulips planted for next spring, check out The Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm, which grows tulips by the acre and takes orders online.

It rains about 80 inches a year around here, but in the spring, when the sun comes out and everything’s in bloom, we look around and know we’re living in paradise.

Tracing Oregon roots

There was snow on the road to town yesterday. Is it not April, officially spring? Weather here has been bizarre, a few minutes of sun, then hard rain, then hail, more sun. Just when you start to get warm, black clouds darken the sky, and it rains again. That’s life on the Oregon coast.

Oregon Stories is out now from Ooligan Books. I’ve got a piece in there. The book is based on stories submitted to the Oregon 150 website last year in honor of the state’s sesquicentennial (150 years). Start bugging your local bookstores for copies, especially if you have any connection to Oregon.

I wrote about finding my great-great grandparents’ unmarked graves in the Damascus, Oregon pioneer cemetery. They settled in Damascus in the 1800s. Jean came from France, where his family made chocolate candy, and Refucia Maria came from Baja California. I don’t know how they got together or how they communicated, but they had lots of kids, including my great-grandfather Joe Fagalde, who ended up in San Jose California.

Joe married Luisa Gilroy, of Spanish and Scottish descent. They had three sons, the eldest of whom was Clarence, who married Clara Riffe, who was German. Their oldest son was Clarence, Jr., aka Ed, who married Elaine Avina(Portuguese) and had me and my brother Mike. So we have connections in both Oregon and California. I like to think that when Fred and I moved north, we connected the family back to our American roots. One of these days, I plan to do more digging for the whole story of the Fagalde clan.

Meanwhile, check out Oregon Stories. It’s a good read.

Finding Independence

I missed my turn the other day on my way from a doctor’s appointment in Corvallis to Fred’s place in Albany, but it turned out well. Shortly after I decided I was about to end up in Portland if I kept going, I turned east and discovered Independence, Oregon. What a great place. It’s farm country, with signs advertising blueberries, peaches, and raspberries, with furrowed fields of squash, corn, hay and perhaps hops. Googling the town’s history, I find this town of 7,905 souls was once the hops capital of the world. It’s beautiful, and they’ve got beer; what a place.

Located 10 miles southwest of Salem on the west bank of the Willamette River, it was first settled by Oregon Trail travelers in June 1845. They named it Independence after the Missouri town where many of them had started their journey. Over the years, it’s had its ups and downs. A flood in 1861 devastated the town, but the people rebuilt on higher ground, and many of the wonderful old buildings there now date back to the 1880s. New highways took traffic away from Independence, but that allowed it to keep its quiet, old-time feeling.

Independence has preserved its . . . well, its independence. It’s got all the amenities of a great small town, libraries, parks, an outdoor amphitheater, stores, banks and all that. It’s close to Salem, only an hour from Portland. Yet it looks like a small country town, much like my native Santa Clara Valley looked before the electronics industry turned it from the Valley of Heart’s Delight to Silicon Valley.

Driving down the old Corvallis Road, I passed vast fields being watered by giant sprinklers on wheels, horses, cows, the Hilltop Cemetery and even a housing subdivision named “Green Acres.” I wonder what houses cost there. I plan to go back with my camera, but this time I won’t be lost.

What’s a Califoregonian?

That’s what I am: a California native turned Oregonian. I have roots in both states, but after 44 years in the Golden State, I moved to the Beaver State, specifically the central Oregon coast near Newport. Many others have made the same move. In any gathering where I ask how many came from California, at least half the people raise their hands.

Well, you can take a woman out of California, but you can’t take California out of the woman. They say we change cells completely every seven years. Having been here 12 1/2 years, I should be completely Oregonian by now, but I don’t think that will ever happen. Except for a dear stepson who lives in Portland, my family is still in California, mostly in the Bay Area. I miss them terribly and have traveled back and forth far more times than I ever expected to do. But when I’m there, I miss Oregon. When I’m here, I miss California. I talked on the phone the other day to someone from San Francisco and thought, “Oh, San Francisco.” But I was in Portland last night and thought, “Oh, I love this place.” And I do. When my plane lands at PDX, I feel as if I can breathe again.

Why did we move here? Quality of life, lower cost of living, affordable homes near the beach, clean air, and no traffic. Also, we discovered, no nearby shopping malls, medical specialists, major airports or universities. Jobs are scarce. What we do have is weather, lots of it, tsunami warning signs all over the place, and gigantic slugs.

But I have not started this blog to complain about what the Oregon coast has or doesn’t have. It’s to share the discoveries I make here every day. That’s the exciting thing about exploring a new territory. I look forward to telling tales, publishing photos and perhaps offering an occasional poem.

I look forward to starting a new conversation with readers who will keep coming back to see what else I’ve discovered.