Tag Archives: The Sixties

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!


Light shows in my mind

The faire is in the fields between Los Carneros and El Colegio Road. Parked cars line the streets, so Josh turns off on Camino del Sur and parks a couple of blocks away. He pulls his old beach blanket out of the back seat, folds it up, and puts it under his arm. I carry the muffins in a paper bag and stash the bottle of plum wine in my Greek shoulder bag.

We find an open spot in the grassy area in front of the stage. Josh spreads out the blanket and we sit down. I slip off my sandals and he takes off his tennis shoes. We dig our toes into the nubby surface of the blanket. The Travel Agency is on the stage playing one of their long instrumental numbers. The notes work their way into my muscles and bones and follow the nerve pathways until they fill my whole body with light. Is this what nirvana is like? I close my eyes and remember every light show from all the concerts I’ve been to, especially “Dry Paint” with its giant projections of Botticelli paintings in the midst of the flowing colors. Funny because I’ve only ever seen The Travel Agency outdoors, playing for free in the parks. But they’re so good they make light shows in my mind. I open the bag of muffins and put it between us.  Josh reaches in, takes one out, and tears off a big mouthful. He passes it to me; I take a bite and hand it back. It’s getting dark when the music builds to a crescendo and the set is over. Thundering applause, loud whistles, people wanting more, but the band is unplugging their guitars and taking their instruments off the stage. Who is going to play next?

Prompt: Sunday Scribblings, Shine

Making Things is Sacred

A gorgeous tent like a sheik’s portable desert palace sprang up sometime during the night in the field across El Colegio road. It’s made of purple velvet, red and gold brocade with three peaks on its roof that stretch toward heaven. I think of Aladdin and his lamp, Ali Baba and the forty thieves, and Ozma of Oz. The tent stands in a place of its own apart from the rows of awnings and vendor’s booths that fill most of the field.  It’s the annual Isla Vista Pleasure Faire. There’s a wooden platform under a tree where the raspy-voiced lead singer of Alexander’s Timeless Bloozband belts out “Love So Strong” while a harmonica wails.

Josh points to the red, purple, and gold tent. “I wonder what that is.”

I lean against him and he slips his hand into my back pocket.

“It’s like something in a fairy tale,” he says.

“It’s magical,” I agree. “I think it just winked into existence. There’s something holy-looking about it. We should definitely check it out.”

Holding hands, we approach the tent. The heavy fabric parts and a man who could be King David steps out. A circlet of braided leather like an everyday crown holds his reddish gold hair in place. His red beard is trimmed to about half an inch. He has a big nose with flaring nostrils and piercing blue eyes that take in everything about us as we walk across the field. He wears a green robe belted at the waist and hand-made leather sandals on his feet. King David all the way, like something out of the Bible. I wonder if the Ark of the Covenant is in that tent.

“Greetings and welcome!” the man exclaims.

Josh bows. I do a clumsy curtsey with his hand still in my pocket.

The kingly man spreads his arms in a sweeping gesture. “And what, fair lady, does my tent look like to you?”

“A religious monument,” I whisper. “A temple.”

“Come in and see.” The man holds the door flap open for us and we all step inside. Medieval-looking leather goods of all kinds are spread out on wooden tables–belts, purses, sandals, hair ornaments, knife sheaths, sword scabbards. “This is my shop,” the man says. “I make things here, so it is indeed a religious monument because making things is sacred.”

A petite woman in a red brocade dress steps out from behind a fabric curtain between this room and the back of the tent. An impossible mop of brown curls frames her face and cascades down her shoulders. Stepping into this tent is like going back in time, stepping back into the old stories. Josh and I in our jeans and tee shirts are out of place, intruders from a different time.

“We have visitors, Esther,” the man says.

“Welcome,” she says. “My husband Solomon made all these things. Aren’t they great?” She grins at him and at us.

Josh and I go from table to table. “This stuff is really beautiful,” I say. How can we not buy something? I just hope we can afford it; all the hand tooling is going to be really expensive.

Esther holds out a leather barrette. “This would look beautiful in your hair. I really envy you your hair, so long and straight.”

What a blowmind. To me, my hair is dull, boring. It just hangs there. “I have always wanted curly hair like yours!” I take the barrette; it’s hand tooled with a floral pattern. “I love this. How much is it?”

Esther and Solomon laugh. “Take it! It is absolutely free!” Solomon booms.

“We have a tradition,” Esther explains. “Wherever we go, we gift something to our first visitors. It brings us luck.” She hands Josh a belt with a brass buckle in the shape of a lion’s head. How did she know he’s a Leo?

“Wow! Are you sure?” Josh stares at them, then the belt, lips parted, eyes wide. I know he would have bought that belt anyway, he’s so into being a Leo.

“Yes! Take them,” Solomon grins at us. “Our first visitors are sent to us by God. What we give you is our gift to God.”

I put the barrette in my hair while Josh tucks in his shirt and threads the belt through the loops on his Levi’s. “Thank you so much,” he says. “We will never forget this.”

“We’ll tell everybody about what groovey stuff you have,” I add.

Solomon opens a couple of panels in the tent and makes a big door… the store is open. Lots of people are already crossing the field toward us.


Bob Dylan Documentary

Martin Scorsese’s film about Bob Dylan, No Direction Home, brought back a lot of memories. Packed with commentary by Liam Clancy, Allen Ginsberg, Joan Baez, Dave Van Ronk, Peter Yarrow, and others, it sucked me right back to my late teen years. I was raised by extreme right-wing evangelicals. I didn’t fit in, and those years seethed with bitter conflict.

I was 16 the first time I heard Bob Dylan. One of my chores was ironing, and I was listening to KSAY 1010, a country music station, while I slaved away at the ironing board. (Does anybody iron pillow cases anymore?) I liked Marty Robbins, Johnny Horton, and Johnny Cash. Then Bob Dylan came on, singing “Blowin’ in the Wind.” I had never heard anything like it. The lyrics left me stunned. It was the anthem of our time. I don’t think they played him very many more times on the country music station, but I was never the same after that. Someone had just given voice to my own forbidden feelings about segregation and war.

Looking back, I have trouble understanding the extreme reaction some people had to Dylan’s going electric; I liked the evolution of his music just fine. It didn’t hurt that the musicians who backed him up were the people who would later become “The Band.”

Some people said he sounded awful. They made fun of his voice. But my best friend Roz and I played the records over and over on our cheap little record players. We painstakingly wrote down the lyrics and memorized them like scripture. My high school English teacher, Lloyd Baskerville, was determined to discover what this was about–why the kids admired Dylan so much while the “adults” despised him, so he got the records and spent an evening listening to them. He was amazed. He spent a whole English class quoting lyrics (“pure poetry”) and talking about them.

Those songs got me through the difficult transition of breaking away from my racist, McCarthyist parents with their threats of hellfire and making my own imperfect way in the world.  His lyrics are “evergreen.” Most of them could have been written in 2010.

Down in Pebble Beach, California, there’s an elite private high school that has its own radio station. When I worked in Salinas, I would sometimes listen to it on the drive home; some of those kids had excellent musical taste. One night, a girl deejay was playing old Bob Dylan songs from my own high school days: “Chimes of Freedom,” “Hard Rain,” and “It’s All Right Ma.” She said she’d just discovered these songs. “They’re way old, but listen to the lyrics. They are totally awesome, could have been written today.” I grinned all the way home.

Time Lines, UCSB 1969

I used an orange pencil to print 768 on the sheet of butcher paper spread out on the kitchen table. That was the year Charlemagne became king of the Carolingians. Joel and I sat next to each other at the table, sipping big mugs of tea. He had the book; I had the pencils to map out a time line to help me prepare for my history final two days from now.

“Okay,” Joel said. He turned a page in the big red-orange book, History of Western Civilization, Volume I. “Now put the year 800, when he got crowned Roman Emperor by Pope Leo III.”

I used the same pencil. Orange, a mixture of red and gold, was a good color for Charlemagne. The name made me think of a lion, muscular with a thick golden mane like Joel, who happened to be a Leo… Otto, farther down the line at 962, was green. Popes were red. It had gotten dark while we worked; the kitchen window was night black now. Under the table, I slid my bare foot across the green linoleum and nudged Joel’s foot. I wiggled my toes. His foot pounced and pinned mine down.  He appeared to be engrossed in the book, but gave me a wicked sideways glance, the corners of his mouth turned up. My foot pretended to struggle, but it didn’t try very hard.

“You think Charlemagne played footsies?” I said.

“No way, girl. Men and women didn’t play with each other. You’re lucky to be living now–women had chastity belts in those days. They had to just lie there and not move. Sex was not fun.”

I picked up my mug of tea and took a sip. Earl Grey, my favorite. “You’re probably right. The popes though… sex was forbidden for them. They couldn’t get enough.”

Joel scooted his chair closer until our arms touched. “I’m going to get a red nightshirt,” he growled. “It’ll be my pope robe. When I do, you’d better watch out.”

“Mmmmm. Pope Leo.” I leaned my head on his shoulder. “I had no idea doing a time line could be this much fun! History the way it’s written in the textbook is so boring. Tedious. It’s torture.”

“Really? I think this time line idea is cool.”

“Yeah, but it’s just power shifting back and forth between popes and emperors. Where were the regular people in all this? The ones like us, scratching out their existence, trying to survive on farms, in their little hovels–”

“Oh, you mean serfs?”

“Yeah. Those people couldn’t have had a clue about politics–corruption, power struggles, greed, and shoving back and forth going on at the top. They probably went to mass, thinking it was about God, but the church wasn’t any different from the emperor–they were all overlords.”

“Yeah. No wonder Karl Marx called religion ‘the opium of the people.'”

I pressed my palms over my eyes. I’d been studying all day. Time lines helped me see the whole picture at once while I studied for the exam, but I didn’t like the big picture. It was too familiar. Young people, poor people didn’t exist for the Nixon administration any more than the peasants had for the pope and the Holy Roman emperor, except as draft fodder.

“You know–it would be way more interesting from a different approach,” I said. “Look at Tolkien. Everybodys read the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and that was fuckin’ long! It was crammed with the history Tolkien made up for his Middle Earth world, which was really medieval, but everybody stayed glued to the very end because they cared about the people in the middle of that history. A lot of cats and dogs around here have names like Gandalf, Baggins, Frodo…”

“You’re right. That story–it’s part of our mythology.  Frodo is the hero, maybe the last hero we’ve got now that they’ve killed Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King…” Joel sighed. He looked sad all of a sudden.

“I know–and we’re all hunkered down with the police hassling everybody, threatening, illegally searching and busting people all the time. Like the dark riders.”

“Nazgul.” He spat out the word for them. “And the war and the draft sure do play into it all, don’t they?”

I pulled a long, dark-brown strand of hair forward, held it in front of my face, and examined it for split ends like I always did when I felt uneasy. All the shampoos and cream rinses promised to mend split ends, but none of them did jack shit.

“Let’s hurry up and finish this fuckin’ thing,” Joel said. “Then we can go over to my place; I’ve got steaks we can broil.”

“Really? Far out!”

“Okay. 1085 – Heinrich IV attacks Italy and drives the pope out of Rome.”

I made that one purple.


Fighting over who gets the most

Prompted by Sunday Scribblings: Dinner

Dinnertime for the dogs is serious business: lots of anticipatory chop-licking and jumping for joy when the bowls are being filled. I taught them to leap high in the air instead of jumping all over me, so it looks like the most joyful cavorting you can imagine. Then I set down the bowls. Each dog checks to make sure the other one didn’t get more. It’s the same with treats, and if a piece of jerky should fall out of Kieran’s mouth (he’s clumsy and not too bright), Jilly snatches it before he even realizes what happened.

When Joel and I were university students, we’d have dinner at Mama’s, an Italian restaurant right out of the movies with red-and-white checked tablecloths and candles in chianti bottles dripping wax all over the straw holders. We’d begin with antipasto–cold cuts, cheese slices, peppers and olives–while we waited for the pizza. At last it would come, round, hot, and succulent with bubbly melted cheese, sliced unevenly with an equal number of slices but some pieces bigger than others. Like a couple of dogs, we’d eye the pizza and try to grab the biggest slice first. Sometimes I won; sometimes he did. Mama’s pizza was wonderful, meant to be savored, but we bolted it like dogs, racing to get to the last slice before the other person could. Joel always got the last piece; I just couldn’t eat fast enough. Dessert would be spumoni, green and pink ice cream full of candied fruit. We each had our own bowl to linger over and enjoy, and it’s still my favorite ice cream.

Besides fighting over pizza, we found countless other ways to be unkind to each other until I moved to another state, found someone else, and had a child. Joel was killed in an accident. I still think of him when “49 Bye-Byes” by Crosby, Stills, and Nash comes on the radio; it was our song. How we could be best friends, lovers, and utterly horrible to each other all at the same time still pains me, but now, years later, the best-friends part is what remains.

San Francisco Oracle

On my own for the first time, I used to plaster the walls around my bed with hallucinogenic psychedelic art from the San Francisco Oracle, an underground newspaper that came out between 1966 and 1968. I made lots of home-made strings of beads and hung them on the walls between and on top of my makeshift posters when I wasn’t wearing them, and I had one of those thin cotton paisley Indian bedspreads, a blue-green one. My bedroom was a riot of color. The little mono phonograph was all I could afford, but to someone who’d never had a stereo, it sounded great playing the Buffalo Springfield, Jefferson Airplane, and The Doors. I wore that record player out.

The Oracle introduced me to people like Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder, both of whom I continue to read today. If I’d known that The Oracle would only be around for a short time, maybe I would have kept the copies I had instead of making wallpaper out of them. It was a wonderful newspaper, and my psychedelic bedroom was wonderful too.

Prompted at Sunday Scribbings: Oracle