Reminiscing, I drove down to Cave Junction last week for the first time in thirty years. In the early 70s, I hitchhiked up there and several of us lived “on the land” in a shack on Rockydale Road for a year or so, maybe longer. We had a vegetable garden and made leather belts and purses that we sold on consignment at a store called “The Boiled Peanut” in Grants Pass. Cave Junction was the setting for part of Eileen’s story in my novel, A Shack on the Outskirts of Heaven.
These photos of me were taken with a Brownie camera that I got for Christmas when I was a kid–you know, those square cameras that looked like a box? The Illinois River was in our back yard, and we lived through the major flood described in the novel. The rent was $15 a month, but we had to leave when the owner, Al Thayer, sold the property.
Cave Junction is on Highway 199, between Grants Pass and Crescent City. You could say it’s in the middle of nowhere, an out-of-the way place and not easy to get to. I have missed it ever since I left. At night, I dreamt about it a lot. I drove up again in the 1980s, when my daughter was nine, and tried to find the shack where we lived. I had told her so many stories about our life in Cave Junction! You went maybe half a mile up Rockydale Road and then followed a dirt driveway for another half mile until you came to the tiny shack by the river. A lady was gardening and we stopped and talked to her. She said, oh yes, there was a legend that hippies lived there once! She said Al Thayer had blown his brains out because his emphysema had gotten so bad he couldn’t breathe; and his wife, Esther, was in a nursing home in Crescent City. She directed us to the place where our old road took off; “No Trespassing” signs all over the place, but we went in, anyway.
The tarpaper shack was gone, but the old cabin Mr. Thayer had built was still there, in ruins. I was sad; it had been home to us for a year at least, and had waited for us heroically when the flood raged through the clearing and covered the floor with six inches of mud. No one would live there again. I don’t think it’s still standing; I have searched aerial photos online, and there’s no sign of it.
Rest in peace, Al Thayer.
Next post: Cave Junction today!