Great Blue Heron on Thiel Creek Pond


Down the street and around the corner from our home in the Oregon coastal forest, we turn onto Thiel Creek Road, where just beyond the fire hydrant sits a pond no bigger than most swimming pools. The tree-shaded pond is dark, dotted with water spiders, newts, pine needles and an dead limb that fell last winter. Two pink blow-up floaters have run aground, shriveled hunks of plastic. I always wonder how deep the water is and imagine it is painfully cold. When I walk by at sunset, the pink of the sky reflects in the glassy water, and I am glad to live so close to this piece of nature.

On Wednesday, I was walking my dog Chico at lunchtime. It was a cool, clear November day, the air sweet and refreshing in my lungs. As we turned the corner, I heard a loud rustling and watched a great blue heron rise up in front of us, flying across the pond to perch on a tree, from which it sat watching us, tilting its head from side to side. Now, I am used to Stellar’s jays, robins, Oregon juncos and the occasional crow, but this huge and magnificent bird is a rare visitor whose wings seemed to reach from one side of the pond to the other. What a gift to see it even once.

It was still there when we came back. We walked through trees so tall I couldn’t see the tops of them. I took the dog through his training routine. Sit, stay, come, down, yes, I mean it, down. By the time we head home, he’s slowing down, starting to match his steps to mine. As we approached the pond, the heron rose up in front of us again. This time, it flew west toward the ocean. “Look, Chico, look,” I said, but the dog had his nose on the ground, sniffing the remnants of someone’s lunch.

Later, when I walked the other dog, Annie, all we saw was a squirrel, brown with a rusty chest, busily eating a pine cone. The squirrel ignored us, and Annie ignored the squirrel.

On our walks, we always see something. Maybe it’s a newt slowly crossing the road, a gopher snake, wooly bear caterpillars or the black ones that look like they wear two strings of jewels. We meet the dachshund who lives just past the pond or the limping man with two basset hounds. The flora changes with the seasons from the first trillium in early spring to wild daisies, cow parsnip, and Scotch broom so yellow it glows to the fall mushrooms that look like pancakes on sticks or the ones that hang out of the mud like jingles on a tambourine.

Thiel Creek Road is officially 98th Street now, and the creek is only visible here and there until we move farther east where the houses yield to forest and swamp, but every walk brings something new to see if we bother to look.

All Aboard the Ark

In uptown Newport, a funky old place called The Ark has always fascinated me. Built in the city’s early-1900s heyday, it started as a theater. When I arrived in 1996, it seemed to be a quirky cult-like youth hangout. Back in ’98, when I worked for the News-Times, I was sent there once to take pictures of the elaborate Christmas decorations. The lights were so dim I couldn’t see what I was doing. Picture a movie theater just before the show starts and then imagine trying to shoot photographs there with a film-type camera. Can you turn up the lights, I asked. No, they said. Needless to say, my photos weren’t great, but we got something printable out of it.

My next experience at The Ark came about two years ago when Fred and I joined some writer friends seeking a new venue for the Nye Beach Writers Series. Under new owners, the building mostly sat dark, but they offered dance classes there occasionally. When we arrived, the place was painfully cold and smelled like mildew. The mother-son team who owned it greeted us warmly enough and led us on a tour. Most of the theater seats had been replaced by cozy groupings of sofas and tables with all kinds of knick-knacks, from a ceramic elephant to an oversized xylophone. The stage held a permanent setting of chairs gathered around an electric fireplace. Cool. However, the owners are highly religious. When they insisted they would have to censor the readings to make sure we had no sex or profanity, well, that wasn’t going to work. Plus if we got a good crowd, there weren’t enough seats. And that smell, ugh. The ultimate deal-killer for me was the rat that ran across the floor right in front of me. Uh, no thank-you, ever so nice to meet you.

I went back to The Ark Friday night for a concert by the local Sweet Adelines chorus, about 30 middle-aged-to-old women in glittery Christmas sweaters. This time, the Ark was warm and smelled of popcorn from a machine in the corner. No rats. The soft lighting reflected off the revolving ball overhead. With all their families and friends, the Addies drew a big crowd, more than fit in the seats. I’m glad I got there early. The ancient theater seat felt comfortable, the acoustics were good, and the music was not bad for very far off Broadway. There’s a bar at the back of room, which is nice, but a shortage of restrooms, which is awkward when all of the performers are female. I used the men’s room. The aisles have been “carpeted” with aqua rope that is supposed to be nautical, but I kept tripping on it. Overall, the Ark is still strange and funky, definitely quirky, but I wouldn’t mind sitting in one of those chairs on the stage and singing my songs.

The Ark is one of the pillars of what Newport is calling its Deco District. In an effort to bring folks uptown and slow the constant turnover of businesses there, they’re trying to make all the buildings, new and old, fit the Deco tradition with pastel paint and faintly Moorish d├ęcor. The Ark is showing weekly old-time movies, and people can rent it for various events. Check out The Ark’s website at http://www.thearkatnewport.com to see what I’m talking about.

Oh, the mud!

Mix two nine-month-old lab-terrier puppies, a rainy day and a pile of dirt and what do you get? Mud. I have never seen so much mud in my life. In fact, the robe I’m wearing right now is decorated with muddy pawprints, and my husband is wiping more paw prints off the kitchen floor because he accidentally let the dogs in. I had already mopped the floor and was trying very hard to keep it clean.

Annie, the smaller but trickier dog, added some mud prints to the green chair by the window. I barely got her back outside when her brother Chico (the one on the chair) slipped in. What’s a little more mud on linoleum? But in the laundry room, where the dogs live, oh, the horror. The floor is completely covered with mud and so are the tops of the dogs’ crates. The edges of the walls and the washer and dryer and are also paw-painted with mud. It’s everywhere, including smeared all over the sliding doors in the dining area. No matter how many times I wipe the dogs’ paws, they get dirty again. It’s only November. We’re in for many more months of rain. Ahhh!

There’s hope for today though. Blue sky shows through the holes in the clouds and they’re predicting some sunshine for the next couple days. Time to dry out and clean up. Welcome to life in Oregon.

Of course we could have snow and below-freezing temperatures. We don’t want that. Or do we? Snow covers the dirt, which means no mud.

Happy day after Thanksgiving to all.

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy turkey day to everyone. It’s raining here, but not too hard. It’s cold, but not too cold. Being far from family, we hadn’t planned to make a big deal out of Thanksgiving. In fact, the plan was for me to go to church and then make enchiladas while the husband watched football all day. But my stepson surprised us by showing up yesterday. He was camping east of Sisters and got snowed out. Since we had a turkey in the freezer, he requested a traditional dinner, so the bird is in the oven, the pie is cooling, the Jello is made and it feels like a holiday now. I’ve been burning up the telephone lines calling people in California. They’re all having turkey dinners with other family members, so things are as they should be.

Church was nice this morning, just a small group in our old-fashioned brick sanctuary near the beach. This version of Sacred Heart Church was built in 1952, the year I was born. We all brought bags of food for the poor, and the sermon was about all the things we have to be grateful for. After Mass, Father Brian said he would be grateful if we’d take the 2008 hymnals out of their jackets and put in the 2009 books. We assembled a work party in the hall and were done in no time. That’s a small town for you. When there’s something to be done, we all join in.

My friend Georgia, who sings with me in the choir, was there in her baseball cap and no makeup. She’s got a nasty sinus infection and a cracking voice that sounds like a 13-year-old boy’s. When I stopped at the grocery store for yams and Cool Whip, she was pulling in. She picked up a bottle of wine, saying that was going to be her Thanksgiving dinner. Hey, whatever makes you feel good.

The store was full of people buying one bag worth of stuff, all the forgotten items somebody sent them out to get. While I was in line at the register, Michael the stepson called to request a lemon. I’m not sure what he’s going to do with it, but off I went for a lemon. Now he’s busy working magic with the yams.

Newport, OR is the county seat, with a population of approximately 10,000. The weather and lack of jobs keep us from growing much larger, but it’s the kind of place where you meet friends everywhere you go, and I like that. This week, the public works department wound lighted wreaths around all the light poles and strung lights around City Hall. It is so pretty at night. I’ll try to get a picture soon. Next Saturday the Nye Beach Christmas tree will be lit in front of Nana’s Bistro and I’ll join the wandering musicians visiting the local shops. Soon we will also have our lighted boat parade in Yaquina Bay and the Festival of Trees up at the Agate Beach Best Western. It’s a nice time to be here.

And our puppies, Chico and Annie, huge at nine months, are getting to sleep inside by the pellet stove, the light of the fire shining in their eyes, the scent of turkey wafting past their nostrils.

Happy Holidays.

More Beaver lore


Yesterday at Rite Aid, they were selling a game called Beaveropoly, just like good old Monopoly, except the box was orange and the streets were football-related.

Not to leave out Oregon’s other big team, a lady in line at the pharmacy had on a bright Duck-yellow fleece jacket with a green University of Oregon logo. These people like their football.

I thought folks were nuts about the 49ers, back in the days when I could hear the game blaring from every apartment in the complex where I lived near San Francisco. Of course they were winning then.

I promised to find out why this is the Beaver State. I guessed right. The beaver, named state animal in 1969, was a big part of the early settlers’ economy. They trapped beavers for their thick brown fur. In fact, they trapped almost all of them, so the state had to start protecting beavers and they have come back. Oregon likes beavers so much, there’s a big yellow picture of one on the back of the state flag.You can find more interesting facts about this stuff at the Oregon the Beaver State web site.

Now here’s a good question, to which I don’t have the answer: Why was the kid in the old “Leave It to Beaver” show called Beaver? And what was his real name?

Watch out for those beavers and ducks

Last Saturday on my way to and from Beaverton, OR, where I joined other authors for a reading at Borders, I ran into the Beaver hordes in Corvallis. Orange shirts everywhere. Somehow my morning trip matched up perfectly with those about to attend the Oregon State football game. And then when I got onto I-5, the cars heading south wore a blend of Beaver orange and black and Ducks yellow and green. Flags waved from the cars as if they were all part of a presidential motorcade. Apparently the University of Oregon also had a game that day. I don’t follow Oregon college football so I had no idea. However, being married to a football fanatic from Southern California, I could tell you when USC was playing.

I came back through Corvallis right after the Beavers game ended. Picture cars lined up for miles, the exit to the coast blocked with orange cones, men in orange vests directing traffic through the intersections. I thought I’d never get home. The last lap is a dark, two-lane road along the Yaquina River. I had headlights in my rear-view mirror all the way to the coast from beer-fueled, truck-driving Beaver fans anxious to continue the celebration in Newport.

People around here are crazy for the Beavers and the Ducks. In two weeks, they play each other in the game known as the Civil War. I’m not going anywhere near the stadium that day.

One has to wonder about teams named for ducks and beavers. What happened to fierce animals and wild warriors? A duck? I always thought I’d like to be a duck. Not only are many pretty, but they can swim, walk and fly. But they just eat bugs, right?

As for beavers, I recently learned that they are rodents. What makes them rodents is that their teeth keep growing. They chew wood to keep them from getting too long. They make elaborate dams, live there a while, then move on. Like Californians.

Both teams have the ugliest uniforms. I guess you can only do so much with orange and black and green and yellow. Of course my college team, the San Jose State University Spartans, has beautiful blue and gold uniforms but are not usually big winners.

We have some interesting logos here. The Oregon State Beavers have a vicious-looking beaver with gigantic teeth, wild eyes and long hair blowing backwards. They also have an O linked with an S. The University of Oregon goes by just a stylized green O. That’s it; an O. Now of course both universities ignore the fact that other colleges exist whose names also start with an O. In Oregon, it’s Ducks and Beavers. Period.

It seems ironic that I was headed to Beaverton the day I got caught in the Beaver football traffic. I even heard a commercial talking about the Church of the Beaver. Say what?

Oregon is known as the Beaver State. I have never seen a live beaver, but the word is certainly everywhere. In fact, we have a Beaver Creek down the road from us. My husband Fred and I kayaked down it a couple years ago in driving rain. In August. Become one with the water, our guide said. Yeah, right. But that’s another story.

I’m going to have to do some research on why this state is so beaverlicious. I’m thinking it has something to do with the hunters who made their livings collecting the beavers’ lush pelts. Stay tuned.

And check the football schedule before you drive through Corvallis or Eugene on a Saturday in November.

I welcome your comments, corrections and education for this California transplant who still doesn’t get all the nuances of being an Oregonian. Enlighten me, please.

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.