Tag Archives: illinois river

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…

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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!

Remember Snail Mail?

It took such a long time. By the time the mailman brought an answer to your letter, the situation often had changed, but…  you had a permanent piece of paper with the other person’s handwriting on it. I saved some of my grandmother’s letters.

I don’t miss it. Email is so much faster and more spontaneous. People tended to worry about paper mail. They wrote it out first and then copyed it out on nice stationery. Half the time, they got intimidated and ended up not writing at all.

Back in Cave Junction, we sat around a rusted little metal table with our colored marking pens and decorated our letters and envelopes with psychedelic designs. I will be going to Cave junction next week; I expect to find the place changed since we lived in a tiny cabin next to the Illinois River. I drew on my experiences there and used Cave Junction as one of the settings in my novel, “A Shack on the Outskirts of Heaven.” It will be fun to look around.