According to the state Office of Economic Analysis, Oregon will have had about 28,000 immigrants in 2015. But after the torrential rains of December, I wonder how many will climb onto their inflatable rubber ducky swimming pool rings and paddle away through the mocha-colored floodwaters of the Willamette en route to much drier places. Perhaps they tried to navigate this deep canyon of darkness around the winter Solstice while reading the late Ken Kesey’s “Sometimes a Great Notion,” a quintessential Northwest novel in which twisted personalities confront slanting rain and oozing mud and rising water, a story that can leach the very marrow from the center of your sun-starved bones.
Do yourself a favor and do not relocate to this mossy chasm with sopping gray dishrag skies unless you are ready for a winter where the sun rarely shines, and when it does it peeks shyly over the surrounding hills. This is a place perched precariously on the edge of a continent drifting inexorably westward into the steely waters of the Pacific Ocean, where sometimes the smooth slide of the North American plate beneath the Pacific plate is interrupted by a lurch that causes the land to shudder in epic 9.0 proportions, during which many things that seem to defy gravity no longer do so and come crashing down in a haphazard jumble, and the ocean rolls out then rolls back in with a wave so large that all that stuff that came crashing down is flushed out to sea like jettisoned toothpick art. Do not move here unless you are willing to keep in your closet a gallon of drinking water and a jar of peanut butter and a flashlight and a rubber ducky swimming pool ring fully inflated at all times. Do not move here unless your soul is wrapped in an impervious emotional rain slicker.
My family has been in Oregon for a long time now, but sometimes my rain slicker springs a leak. After all these winters I still occasionally wander in the bottom of this dim canyon and wonder if I’ll ever find the way out. Sometimes genius shows me the way in terms so starkly obvious that my fingers bleed against its granite edifice. Barbara Sullivan’s blog post “The Feel Better Book: What to do when You Feel Overwhelmed” is a perfect example:
“Just get out of the chair and start walking around, doing stuff at random—it doesn’t matter what: walk down the hall, find the Kleenex, eat a carrot, gather up one bag of trash, put a new light bulb in the fixture that’s been out for six months. Wash one dirty dish. It doesn’t matter what you do: just keep moving. Sort one pile of paper into bills and junk mail. If you find a real letter in there, rejoice at the miracle and answer it. Brush your teeth. Go open the door and stare outside for the first time in weeks. Vacuum one room and leave the vacuum there."
Just do something. So on Christmas afternoon I began cleaning off my desk. This was no mean exercise in organization. This was an archaeological dig. This was the year 2015 in reverse. There were manuscript critiques from my beloved writers group. There was the jury summons for the horrific rape trial last summer. About halfway through the pile was a small, unaddressed envelope. It had 75 bucks in it. I have no memory of receiving the money. I hope it was given to me. If I really were an archaeologist I would have dated the finding based on the surrounding material. I just put it in my wallet.
At the bottom of the pile was a blue folder with photocopied materials from the 2015 South Coast Writers Conference. Nearly a year ago Kim and I drove to Gold Beach for the conference. On the way down I photographed a Del Norte Salamander on a piggyback plant. I love Del Norte Salamanders and piggyback plants. I spent that Saturday listening to terrific speakers and networking with other writers. On the way home we sat on a beach at Port Orford with our backs to a drift log and the sun perpendicular to our cheekbones. We ate smoked salmon with cheese and crackers and apples and sipped cold beer. It was seventy degrees.
When I arrived at the bottom of the pile on my desk I remembered a blessed February past, now drifting into unfocused dimness in my rear view mirror, when I threw away my pills and reengaged with the living world. February future is coming quickly. Chorus frogs will be chorusing. Nettles will be sprouting from black leaf litter along the road to the Johnny Gunter cabin. Maybe a few hedgehog mushrooms will still be scattered in the ancient forest in this year of hardly any mushrooms. And if we are very fortunate we will be blessed with those five days of grace when the sun breaks free and the temperature rises and all that water seeping from every pore of the saturated land will glisten and shine and we will know that spring can indeed become reality.
So. Do just one thing.