The highway feels a lot longer on foot

IMG_20180714_194816022_HDR[1]When yet another head-on crash closed Highway 101 just a half mile north of my home in South Beach, Oregon, Saturday, I worried about getting to church to play piano at the evening Mass. There is no other road. Back in May, I sat for hours behind a similar accident. It was miserable, but I had nowhere to go but home. Now, as I listened to the sirens and checked the news, I wondered: Should I try to walk to Newport?

It was a sunny afternoon, ominously quiet without the usual highway noise. Those stuck in line no doubt shut off their engines to save gas. I read on News Lincoln County that one woman was running out of oxygen and put out a 911 call to the fire department. One crash victim was being loaded on a Life Flight helicopter. Another would be transported by ambulance. Photos online showed debris all over the northbound lane. It would take forever to clean it up.

Should I walk? I put on my comfortable shoes and loaded up a bag. But I hesitated. The accident happened at 12:50 p.m. It was 2:30. Emergency responders were working on clearing the road. Tripcheck.com said it would be closed for up to two hours. Maybe the road would be open. My music books were awfully heavy.

In the end, I took a chance on the road being open. When I ventured out in my car at 3:30, traffic was moving. Cars were backed up all the way through Newport to the north and back to Beaver Creek to the south, but I arrived at church on time.

After Mass, I was itching to find out whether I actually could have walked it. After dinner, I tricked Annie by taking the garbage out and then going on down the road. Soon I was on Highway 101, cars whooshing past too close for comfort. The four-foot bike lane felt far too narrow.

The road rapidly becomes a tunnel of trees and cliffs on both sides, mud, grass and dirt along the road littered with coffee cups, cigarette butts, and other debris. I felt conspicuous in my pink shirt walking where people don’t usually walk. I envisioned getting mowed down by a car. I’d make the news as an “elderly woman” with no ID, just a cell phone and a key attached to a whistle.

The road goes uphill and down, in and out of a tsunami zone. On the east side, water trickles under the ferns and fir trees. In an opening on the west, sun rays beamed through the trees on a swampy area filled with blooming purple foxglove. It would have been pretty but for the lethal vehicles flying past me at 60 mph. I decided I would only go as far as the Newport airport.

The road widened out at the turnoff. At 7:30 on a Saturday night, the airport was deserted. Two small planes and an orange Coast Guard helicopter sat on the tarmac beyond the chain link fence. In the light breeze, the windsock pointed due north.

Feeling small in that big area of buildings and runways, I snapped photos and started back, humbled about my earlier plan to walk to town. This was only a little over a mile, and I felt tired. It was four miles to the bridge, six miles to church. I pictured myself sitting on the ground in a puddle of sweat, defeated. Walking on the highway is not like walking the dog in the woods, stopping here and there for her to sniff and pee. It’s a forced march on concrete, expecting to get killed any second.

I couldn’t help thinking about P.D., the main character in my Up Beaver Creek novel. In the story, she and Janie walk much farther than I did. They are younger and in better shape. But there are also no moving cars.

In my imagination, I picture Highway 101 wide open, with couples, singles, and families with kids and dogs safely strolling on a pleasant summer night or making a pilgrimage during the heat of the day to get food and water. People would talk to each other, maybe even sing. Perhaps someone could install a few benches to rest. The trash would get cleaned up once people saw it up close, and the road could become a pleasant gathering place.

But commuting to work would be tough. And what if it was raining or snowing?

Yesterday morning, driving to church, I passed the airport in my car. It took about two minutes, compared to my 45-minute expedition Saturday night.

Could I walk to town in a pinch? I could. It would take an hour and half to two hours, and it wouldn’t be pretty. I’d be sore for a week, but I could do it. When the tsunami comes, it’s quite possible our cars will be useless. We will need to seek alternatives. I’m thinking I need a bicycle or a horse.

I have not been able to find out much about the accident victims, but it was a bad crash. Keep them in your prayers. Please stay safe out there!

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Annie is still waiting for her appointment with the surgeon to fix the torn ligament in her knee. She wants to go on long walks in spite of her gimpy leg, but she’s not up to it these days. For me, walking without her is just not the same. Give her a few months, and she’ll be back at it.

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No, these aren’t Christmas trees

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I squinted to read the orange sign up ahead as Annie dragged me up 98th Street. Even with glasses, I can’t always make out the letters. Logging? Wait. Logging?

The road splits by the big house with the twin Blue Heeler dogs who always howl when we pass. The upper road, 98th Court, is graveled and wild. The lower road, dark and tree-shaded, is mostly paved. After a short straight stretch, it makes a 180-degree turn at the blue house where Annie and her siblings were born.

Up ahead, I saw massive trucks and bulldozers. I saw men with hardhats. I saw that the trees enclosed in that big curve in the road were gone or lying in the bushes waiting to be moved onto log trucks and taken away. Jagged stumps remained, some of them several feet in diameter. It smelled like Christmas. The road was several inches deep in mud and sawdust. In shock, I pulled out my phone and took pictures. I asked a flagger stopping traffic what was going on. Something about the airport approach was the most he could say. We live a half mile south of the Newport Municipal Airport. Apparently the trees were in the way.

Tree-lover that I am, I tried to wrap my head around the fact that we grow all kinds of plants and harvest them. Why not trees? These trees are spruce, hemlock and red alder. We cut down evergreens for Christmas trees, put them up in our houses, cover them with decorations and throw them out two weeks later. How is this any worse? People clear space in the forest to build their houses, their cities, and their airports. And yet, this felt so vicious, so lacking in respect for trees that had been in this forest much longer than we have.

Beyond the work site, the forest remains untouched, dark, cool and green. We walked a ways and gazed across Thiel Creek. So beautiful.

It was getting late, and Annie was starting to limp again. This year, she has begun battling dysplasia and arthritis. Her spirit is willing, but her hips disagree.

I saw a tall, slim woman coming toward us. A new neighbor who lives on 98th Street, she was coming to see the trees, too. She was nearly in tears. It’s like killing animals, she said. Trees are sentient beings. She told me about a meeting happening Monday at 1 p.m. at the airport. I said I’d be there.

We gathered around a table in the upstairs meeting room at the airport, neighbors who knew each other and neighbors who were meeting for the first time. We ranged in age from 60s to 90s. Emotions ran high, as they will when one’s property is threatened. I felt for Melissa Roman, the public works official trying to explain the situation. People got red-faced, standing and yelling. Their voices shook with barely contained tears. How could you do this? You’re ruining our neighborhood! How come nobody warned us? It’s all about money, isn’t it?

The poor woman was just trying to do her job. When you mix cities and nature, there’s always a conflict, she said, exhibiting great patience when I would have been in tears. She’s doing her best.

Here’s the deal. One of the airport’s two runways has been remodeled and the navigation system upgraded. Although earlier environmental studies didn’t show a problem, when planes actually got ready to start flying off that runway, the trees on the 3.14-acre section around which 98th Street curved blocked the navigation equipment. That land is private property, owned by a local developer. The city negotiated a plan in which Integrated Resource Management—foresters, not loggers, she stressed–would cut down the trees. Once the logging is finished, they will cover the remaining slash with plastic until spring, then burn it. After allowing time for the land to recover, they will plant new trees. They will also repair the road where their trucks have damaged it.

For those who mourn the death of the trees, at least they are going to a good cause. At the last minute, arrangements were made to send the logs to the Siletz River for a salmon habitat restoration project. Much better than the wood chipper.

I can live with all of this, but my house doesn’t overlook the destruction, nor do I have to drive through the trucks and mud every day to get to work. Plus, well, if you buy a house near an airport, you have to expect to make some concessions. This isn’t half as bad as what I have seen in San Jose and other big cities where entire neighborhoods were leveled.

However, just when people were starting to calm down, Roman dropped a bomb. In the years since the airport was built in 1944, our few blocks of houses have been exempted from the requirements of the “Maintenance Protection Zone” in which we sit. Not anymore. Within the next year, the city will be asking us for easements on our property to cut down trees that rise higher than they should be in the airport area. Although most of us live on county land, because the airport is in the city of Newport, they have power over the situation.

Ooh, that made people mad.

As long as I live on my land, nobody’s cutting down my trees, said one resident.

I’ve been taking care of those trees for over 40 years, said the very old man beside me.

Me, I thought, well my trees need some thinning out, and if the city will pay for it . . . What can I say? I love my trees, but I also worry about them falling on my house.

Throughout the two-hour meeting, I took notes because that’s what I always did as a reporter. I also tried to steer the conversation away from attacks on Roman, who was doing her best. I can see both sides. We need the airport; we love our trees. It’s a bitch being the person from city hall that everybody hates. The old trees were beautiful. The new trees will be, too.

About 10 years ago, I interviewed the previous airport manager for an article for Oregon Business Magazine. He talked about plans to cut down trees. I was shocked. I asked questions, I did research, and I mourned the passing of the forest. Back then, trees were cut, but they grew back, and these will, too. Meanwhile, Santa will find it much easier to get to our chimneys on Saturday night.

Merry Christmas, my friends!

P.S. You can read about the airport-forest situation in the last chapter of my book Shoes Full of Sand. The ebook is only $2.99, and the paperback is also reasonably priced.

P.P.S. This is my first attempt at a slide show here on WordPress. Let me know how it works for you.