Busy Spider

I was sitting out on the deck with my notepad working on my new chapter when I noticed a spider suspended between the thorny canes of a rosebush, motionless, waiting. I kept on writing while I debated going inside to get the camera. A very small fly got caught and the spider pounced. She wrapped that fly up fast; its transformation from fly into a mouse-turd-sized crumb was almost instantaneous. She took the fly to the lower right corner of the web and began her meal. A bee snagged itself in the upper left part of the web and the spider left her half-eaten fly, swiftly wrapped the bee, and returned to the fly, saving the bee for later. She finished eating the fly. She went to the bee next, detached it from where it was, and took it to the same place she had eaten the fly. It looks like the lower right corner of the web has been set aside to serve as the dining room. I put my pen and notebook down and got the camera. The spider was so busy feasting on the bee she let me take a couple of photos without running away. I’ll bet that bee was a real treat, full of sweet nectar.


After the Bank Burning

Davidson Library, UCSB

Another excerpt:

The day after the bank burning, I have a full day of classes. Afterward, I go to the library to study. I take the elevator to the eighth floor and find a quiet spot at one of the shiny wooden worktables. I’m reading Twelfth Night for my Shakespeare class, but the mistaken-identity plot is silly and the mean-spirited pranks don’t make me laugh. I stare at the long rows of tall metal stacks without seeing them.

The Eighth-floor Stacks

It’s way past suppertime when I come to the end of Twelfth Night. I push my chair back and get up. I stretch my hands up toward the ceiling and lean left, then right. I wiggle my butt to get the circulation back and shove the wooden chair with its hard seat back against the table. I gather my textbooks and notes and carry them to the elevator. I push the “down” button and wait. It comes. The silent metal doors slide open like portals on a spaceship and I step inside. I hit the round button that says “1” and the elevator descends. Elevators make me dizzy, as if I’d left part of myself on the top floor, and the enclosed space gives me a sick feeling. What if it gets stuck partway down?  The elevator reaches the ground floor and the doors slide open. My legs feel wobbly; I’m glad to step out onto solid floor.

I go outside and down the concrete steps to my bicycle. I pedal to the UCen (University Center). There are vending machines in the cafeteria where I buy an apple and a packet of powdered sugar mini-donuts.  I get watery instant coffee from another machine and sit down by the dark window to eat my supper. The tart juiciness of the apple complements the powdery donuts and I wolf them down. A couple of older men in tweed jackets, probably profs, smoke and drink coffee several tables away. They’re the only other people here. The huge room is lonely and creepy, a sea of empty tables. Metal girders crisscross the high ceilings. The dark windows along one wall reflect the emptiness and make the cavernous space look vast. It seems to go on forever. I need to go home. I throw the apple core, half-drunk coffee, and donut wrapper in the green metal trashcan on my way out to the bike rack.

I pedal past the art department and head toward Pardall Road, but at the eucalyptus-bordered path at the edge of the campus, a line of police cars blocks the way into Isla Vista. I stop, slide off my seat and straddle the bike. Two cops in helmets swing their clubs and smack them against their gloved hands as they swagger up to me.

“Just turn that bike around and go right back,” the shorter one tells me. “Nobody gets past this point.” He sweeps his baton toward the path leading to campus as if he’s directing traffic.

I freeze. I can’t move. I don’t even breathe.

“Go on,” the cop barks. “Back the way you came.”

“I… I–But I need to go home!” My throat closes up on the first words, then the last part tumbles out in a rush: “I live on Sabado Tarde.”

“Yeah, right!” the short cop sneers. He smiles, but it’s a mean smile, a shark’s grin. He steps closer and I shrink back. My left calf catches on the bike pedal and I almost fall down.

“What’re you doing out so late?” the taller cop demands, his feet planted a good distance apart for stability. He shifts his hands on the club, grips it hard like he’s about to hit me.

“I’ve been at the library, studying.”  The words come out high and squeaky. I reach into my basket to pull out my Shakespeare book, to show them–

“Hands out where we can see them!” barks the tall cop, and I freeze. The other cop comes over with a flashlight and paws through my books with gloved hands.

The two cops look at each other and shake their heads. “No weapons, just books,” the shorter one says. He sounds disappointed.

“Ohhh kay–” The taller cop drags out the word and then pauses.

Minutes drag by. I stand still, hands clenched on the handlebars.  The shorter cop shifts his club from one hand to the other and back again. The cops look at each other and shrug.

“Weeeelll, I suppose you can give it a try,” the taller cop says at last. “Go all the way down to El Nido and make your way back from there. Stay away from the center of town.” He waves me on with his club.

The eucalyptus path between Isla Vista and the campus where the cops stopped me

El Nido Lane is at the end of the road, near the beach. I get back on my bike and pedal past more police cars. Fear clutches my body like a giant icy hand and it’s hard to move. My legs shake as I pedal. I try not to wobble–if I swerve, they might think I’m going for a sudden attack. I imagine them hiding behind the eucalyptus trees with guns trained on me. But why are they here? Why have they blocked the streets?

I reach the end of the road. I turn onto El Nido and steer down the narrow street past oak trees and rows of apartment buildings. I hear yelling and what sounds like firecrackers. When I get to El Embarcadero, where there’s a clear view, I stop. At the bottom of the business loop a couple of blocks away, police cars line the street and crowds of people surge back and forth in a cloud of tear gas. What the–? I just want to get as far away as I can. I turn and go the opposite direction toward the beach, and onto Del Playa and make my way home from there. Out here, it’s quiet and peaceful. A breeze from the ocean tangles my hair. It smells like salt. Maybe it will blow away the tear gas.

The Crystal Ship

Oil Platform Holly

An interlude from “At Play in the Apocalypse,” about my experiences during the 1970 Isla Vista riots…

Joel and I walk on the beach; he’s brought a blanket and I carry a bottle of Japanese plum wine. Hand in hand, we stroll at the edge of the water. Warm waves splash over our bare feet. We go far from the beach stairs; then he lets go of my hand and slips his arm around my shoulder. We turn away from the water and pick our way toward the cliffs between clumps of tar and ropes of seaweed. Together, we spread the blanket out on a patch of soft, dry sand. Underneath the salty smell from the ocean, there’s a faint whiff of petroleum. Oil platforms dot the Santa Barbara channel–ugly, metal structures that look like erector sets looming up out of the ocean, but at night, when they’re all lit up, they become palaces. The oil company gave them names like Henry, Grace, and Gilda. The one standing sentinel in the water off Isla Vista is named Holly, but we call it the Crystal Ship; Jim Morrison of The Doors wrote the song one night when he was on this same beach.  It’s lit up like a fairy castle, and the light from it makes a sparkling path across the water.

Joel and I sit down on the blanket and he opens the plum wine. We lean against each other and gaze out over the water. He hands me the bottle and I take a long swig. It’s sweet and the warmth goes all the way down to my stomach. The ocean rushes in, then rolls back in its endless rhythm. Out on the water, the Crystal Ship sparkles and glows.

Bridgeview Winery

By the time I’d finished walking all over Cave Junction, trekked over the bridge, and wandered up and down Rockydale Road, searching for the place I once lived, I was tired. Hot. Sweaty. I couldn’t believe how far we had to walk to get a bag of groceries or take our clothes to the Laundromat. I thought nothing of it at the time, but I was a lot younger then. A sign at the intersection of the Redwood Highway and the Caves Highway pointed toward two wineries, Foris and Bridgeview, and I decided to finish off my visit tasting some local wines. I was curious–there weren’t any vineyards when I lived there. Cave Junction had a population of around 400 then.

I drove four miles to the Bridgeview Winery. The surrounding vineyards were dense, lush and green. I know practically nothing about vineyards, but these were the happiest-looking vines I’d ever seen. It turns out they look different because Bridgeview has a different method of growing them. Click on the link above for the story.

I drove in and parked. At the end of a spacious deck was the tasting room. Brianna, the wine hostess, was helping a group of people who were buying a lot of wine. I wandered around looking at the bottles of wine on display. When it was my turn, Brianna asked me if I’d prefer to taste white or red wines. After all the walking I’d done, I was in the mood for chilled white wine, the drier the better. We started with 2010 Blue Moon chardonnay, fermented in oak barrels, and the premium 2010 chardonnay which is aged in stainless steel. To me, they were similar; fruity with hints of apple, but the Blue Moon seemed a bit heavier. We chatted, and Brianna told me the winery has been in Cave Junction for about thirty years.

Next was the 2010 Blue Moon pinot gris, which I loved. Soft but refreshing, it reminded me of summer days in my dad’s peach orchard. I took a bottle home.

Last was the 2011 viognier. I had never tried viognier and had no idea what it was. It was crisp and tart with a bit of mineral. It was, hands down, the best white wine I have ever tasted. It was like being on the high ridge of the Devil’s Rest trail in the Columbia River Gorge, looking out across the gorge to the mountains beyond. It tasted like sunshine. We had the bottle I took home with chicken and deli salads. It was really, really good with food.

The samples were generous, and when we were done, I had a pleasant buzz going. I got my notebook out of the car and relaxed in a shady spot under one of the deck umbrellas for an hour or so and did some writing. The deck stands next to a tranquil waterway with swans and big trout.



So, if you happen to be in Cave Junction, check this place out! And thanks, Brianna, for being so very helpful.

Cars That Won’t Start

I was about to blog about Bridgeview Winery in Cave Junction, but my new novel got in the way. I’m sitting out on my deck writing about terrorists in Afghanistan kidnapping my main character. On the other side of the hedge of bamboo, blue spruce, and locust trees in my back yard, someone is trying to start a car. The starter cranks again and again–breaks into the story I’m writing. Lord, how that brings back memories!

Back in the early 80s, when Eithne was nine, I think, we visited Cave Junction and Grants Pass. It can’t be a coincidence that I rented a place in Cachagua, Carmel Valley, that same summer. Cachagua was a lot like like Cave Junction, and the place we rented was on the Boronda Creek Ranch, between Cachagua Creek and Boronda Creek–rather like our spot between the Illinois River and an unnamed creek in Cave Junction. It felt like coming home. We did 4-H. We had goats, but that’s another story.

I drove a used, yellow Datsun B210, and it kept breaking down. That car ate starters! The starter cranking over and over again on the next street made me remember. I know that sound. When it happened, though, I wouldn’t be in this cozy Roseway neighborhood.  I’d be stranded out in the middle of nowhere, miles from the nearest house, or phone–no cell phones in those days. So, I would walk and walk and call Triple A.

It’s quiet now; I think the people on the next street have given up or called AAA. Triple-A sent me a letter that year, threatening to terminate me from road service because I called them too many times.

Next post: Bridgeview Winery

Cave Junction Today

Cave Junction has grown nicer and spiffier. It’s much more up to date, with Yoga, galleries, and cool little shops, and it feels friendly. The down-home feeling it had hasn’t changed; I think the town has moved forward without losing the good things.

Back in the 1970s, it felt like going back in time to the forties or fifties. The phones had just 4 numbers, like “2769,” and were on party lines. If you picked up the phone and heard someone talking, you had to wait until they were finished before you could make your call. Most of the people were nice (though they probably laughed at us behind our backs), but a few hard-line folks didn’t like us at all.

A thrift shop now, this building used to be the general store where you could buy screw drivers, bullets, kerosene lamps, and such–at least some people could; a sign in the window stated “We do not solicit hippie trade.”

This used to be Hammer’s Market, where we bought most of our groceries.

To get to our place, we walked to the end of the town and down the highway to a bridge over the East Fork of the Illinois River.

Looking down at the river from the bridge.

After crossing the river, we would trudge down the highway to Rockydale Road. A good way down that paved country road, there was an unpaved driveway on the left that went over a little creek, around a curve, and on to the shack where we lived. I trudged along the road, determined to find it, or at least where it had been. There’s a big gate there now, keeping people out, and beyond the gate, the driveway has narrowed to a path.

These guys wanted their picture taken…

Cave Junction, Oregon

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!