by Matt Love, April 10, 2013 2:00 PM
Readers, thanks for checking out my On Oregon
blog the last four years. It's been a great run of something like 100 or more posts, and I am also thankful to Powell's for letting me run with my Oregon ideas. Here's my last post, and, fittingly enough, it's about the most important Oregon thing in the world to me: our publicly owned beaches.
In the spring of 1997, not long after my 33rd birthday, I awakened in my Portland loft to the reality that I craved a total revolution of my mind, body, and spirit. Truly, I was lost as a human being and unable to envision a path to fulfilling any of my dreams. On a whim, I accepted a teaching job at a small rural school on the Oregon Coast, needing to believe something transformative might happen to me. I honestly felt this was my last shot at doing something important with my life.
Something did happen after heading west. I met the beach, we fell in love, and it has since become the greatest creative, spiritual, and sensual force in my life. But my transformation only manifested because I live in Oregon, and long ago the state decided to forge an exceptional path by protecting its ocean beaches, its "great birthright" as former Oregon Governor Oswald West defined it, from prudery and privatization. That exceptional path also guaranteed public access to the beach — by law.
A couple years after relocating to the coast, I started going to the beach with my three big dogs, in relentless fashion, at all hours, in all weather, using all senses, usually clothed. Strange and wonderful things unfolded at the beach, and I heard the "old voice of the ocean," as the poet Robinson Jeffers called it. In hearing the "old" I began hearing something new: a passion for living, caring, and creating that I never knew existed within me. I also began writing about these very things.
By the way, I've never paid a cent to use the great birthright, a tradition I hope never changes. If it does, Oregon is surely doomed and we already know the culprits — plutocrats who never visit the beach; they only want to own it.
I intended to stay one year on the Oregon Coast. Now, I'm enjoying my 16th year in residence, and I estimate that I've rambled the great birthright close to 10,000 times and written a million words about my experiences. I've run into coyotes, sea lions, deer, sages, prophets, madmen, magic forts, marijuana dealers, eagles, herons, pelicans, whales, Ken Kesey's ghost, 50 shades of stratus gray, holy fires, mermaids, and a Sea God's sculptures. I've inhaled salty fog and hurdled over rotting kelp. I let a million gallons of rain erode the procrastinator I was in Portland. I saw everything through the keyhole of a limpet. I learned the definition of beauty and art and met the hardest of hardcore Oregonians walking in slanted sleet. I found myself and a literary voice.
Oregon's beaches can help you find yourself too. It all depends on what you seek: privacy, creativity, recreation, rain, solace, escape, confession, unpretentious family time, God, god, gods, contemplation, inspiration, transfiguration, transmogrification, an agenda-free zone, forgiveness, redemption, simplicity, passion, connection, maybe even a little fun, hardly ever the sun. Or perhaps you seek the unknown and want something unexpected to unfold in real time. Oregon's beaches offer that as well, especially in the winter. Really, anything is possible because guaranteed access makes it possible and access guarantees something tactile can happen.
Something wonderful always results when something tactile happens at the beach. But for anything to happen, you must walk upon the beach. Looking at it from a moving vehicle or the comfort of a living room pales in comparison. In fact, it's not even worth comparing.
by Matt Love, March 27, 2013 11:00 AM
As an adolescent growing up in Portland and when on summer break from Harvard, John Reed frequently visited the North Oregon Coast and wrote about these experiences in some of his first published work. This was a few years before he rode with Pancho Villa in Mexico; consorted with Trotsky, Lenin, and Stalin in Russia; wrote Ten Days That Shook the World
; and became the country's most famous romantic revolutionary and radical journalist (and the obsession of Warren Beatty, who starred as Reed in the classic 1981 film Reds
). Reed died in 1920 and is the only American ever buried in the Kremlin Wall.
On one trip in 1908 when he was 21, Reed, a native Oregonian, described the north Oregon Coast as a place of "wildness and desolation that cannot be imagined." In his essay "From Clatsop to Necarney," he sketched the story of a September hike from Seaside over Tillamook Head to the base of Mount Neahkahnie and the beach at Oswald West State Park.
In this piece (and a few others recounting or fictionalizing outdoor adventures), Reed always described what it meant to be a young man in awe and in love with Oregon nature, totally free, away from the city and lectures, a "vagabond," as he called himself. Of course, in that era, he was unaffected by popular youth culture because capitalism hadn't invented one yet. He decided for himself what was cool and what would engage him, and at this point of his life, briefly, before class politics took over, what engaged him was taking on a wild place without gadgets and writing lyrically about everything he saw, felt, and intuited.
Every now and then, I've had the privilege of teaching students who remind me of Reed in "From Clatsop to Necarney." You never forget them. They change you. The most recent one was named Asher Doyle, an expert on culinary mushrooms who founded a mushroom appreciation club a few years ago at Newport High School, where I teach. Asher would often bring me chanterelles he picked and sauté them in butter on a little propane stove set up in the parking lot. These were the best school lunches of my career, and I might have been the only teacher in the country to enjoy such free haute cuisine served on a paper plate.
I think a young John Reed and Asher Doyle would have got along famously.
What a magical story Reed tells. Resting by Elk Creek near Cannon Beach with two friends, he wrote: "stretched upon our backs, and dreaming under the old, old trees, while the spell of the place and the bright strong day took hold upon our hearts." They revived and continued walking down the beach, where they "ate lunch, and smoked a fragrant pipe." Nearby in the trees, a few squatters lived, "many of them alone, silent men for the most part, filled no doubt with the hush of great spruces and the stars, and the sonorous silence of the sea."
Later, toward evening, Reed and his buddies caught eight trout, "which we devoured ravenously." They snoozed around a campfire until dark and then, "stripped and dashed into the surf." After a short swim "came a long run up the beach and back, racing along naked in the dark, thrilling with the starlight and the firm white sand, pagans again and star-worshipers to the bottom of our souls."
I believe very few men or women can go wrong with experiences in youth like John Reed's on the Oregon Coast. I just wonder: Are we doing enough as a culture to create more John or Jane Reeds? I'm not talking about procreation.
(To see where John Reed frolicked, head to Oswald West State Park and take the Necarney Creek
by Matt Love, March 13, 2013 10:00 AM
Were he alive, former Oregon Governor Tom McCall would have turned 100 on March 22, 2013. This is a birthday worth celebrating, and many of us are doing exactly that because we want to honor an Oregon politician who immeasurably improved our lives and had the temerity to say something like, "Oregon is demure and lovely, and it ought to play a little hard to get. And I think you'll be just as sick as I am if you find it is nothing but a hungry hussy, throwing herself at every stinking smokestack that's offered."
Skeptical of such an outrageous claim that McCall improved our lives? Just amble down Oregon's publicly owned beaches at no cost and you must surely agree. Back in 1967, McCall helped protect them from exploitation by his impassioned support of the Beach Bill, eventually signing it into law after a hard-fought legislative victory where he bucked his own party's leadership.
During his two terms as a maverick Republican (1967-1975), McCall and a largely bipartisan legislature collaborated to implement a series of progressive governing initiatives that McCall collectively called "The Oregon Story." McCall described "The Oregon Story" to one national reporter as one of "innovation and regeneration that can actually be used anywhere. We're trying to export the hope and the formula."
In this era, Oregon could boast of many political innovations, most of them nationwide firsts: protection of beaches from privatization and development, a law dedicating one percent of highway funds to bicycle and pedestrian paths, a mandatory five-cent deposit on returnable cans and bottles, an effort to clean up the polluted Willamette River, visionary land use planning to preserve farm and forestland, a forest practices act, an open public meetings law, penal reform, decriminalization of marijuana, a state-sponsored rock festival to forestall violence (Vortex 1), and an astonishing level of voluntary energy conservation promoted by the state government that inspired many citizens to do the same.
Everyone who has ever spent any time in Oregon has benefitted from the bold bipartisan accomplishments achieved during the McCall era. In effect, they led Oregon to become one of the most desirable places to live in the country within a single generation and quite clearly laid the foundation for the later creation of Portlandia.
When I hear the name "Tom McCall," I like to imagine an alternate (better) American history where he was the western Republican governor who became president, not Ronald Reagan. McCall believed that intelligent government with foresight could enhance the lives of people. Reagan convinced an immature electorate otherwise, that government was the enemy. McCall's entire political career was a complete contradiction of that disastrous lie.
President McCall. It has such a wonderful ring to it. Just think where this country would be today after two of his terms in the White House as opposed to Reagan's. I do all the time. In fact, I'm going to write a historical science fiction novel with that exact premise. I plan on calling it McCallandia and yes, it will differ from Ecotopia, Ernest Callenbach's classic 1975 novel. In that visionary book, a progressive and sustainable Pacific Northwest has seceded from the United States and bars any visitors. In McCallandia, a progressive and sustainable Oregon merges with Washington and Northern Californian and invades the rest of the country not with a military but with... a... well, you'll have to wait for the book. Jerry Brown's in the mix too.
In my decade-long unearthing of numerous McCall anecdotes, one humorously stands above all others as exemplifying the great spirit of the man. It came to me courtesy of Depoe Bay resident Jay Nicholls, who was a high school friend of McCall's son Sam in the mid to late 1960s and later became friends with McCall. I'll let Jay tell the tale:
In 1977-78, I was a young greenskeeper at Devil's Lake Golf Course in Lincoln City and Tom used to come out and play golf. It was just after he finished his second term. I lived in Roads End and Tom had a second home there. He was kind of a hack but had a lot of fun and always played with the salt of the earth type guys, no politicos. Audrey (his wife) would drop him off and I would often take him home in my 1964 Volkswagen bus, a model notorious for not starting at times.
During our rides, he would ask me my reflections on today's youth and we'd talk about cheese. Tom loved cheese! He'd always invite me in and we'd drink a cold beer. He loved it ice cold, in a bottle.
One day Tom needed a ride home, but the bus wasn't starting. I said, "Okay, but we need to give it a push." So we both got behind the bus and gave it a push. We got it rolling down the fairway and I got up in the front and jumpstarted the thing. I threw open the passenger door and Tom came running up, hopped in, and said, "Jay, they can never tell you I'm not a man of the people."
Happy 100th birthday, Tom McCall. I'm going to the beach now to walk the old husky. I'll draw you a cake and decorate it with a hundred driftwood candles and relish the idea of how hard I plan on celebrating your birthday party at the Jack London Bar in Portland on Saturday, March 23, at 8:00 p.m. The weird cool folks from the Dill Pickle Club and Kick Ass Oregon History will be on hand to help me out. And a lot of hungry hussies too.
by Matt Love, February 27, 2013 10:00 AM
During the winter, I like watching anything undulating in motion with the ocean. That might be seals or surfers. That might be mermaids or drift logs. That might be skinny-dippers or coils of kelp.
My favorite day to watch is Sunday. Call it going to church. My favorite place to observe the winter undulations is sitting on a bench overlooking the roiling surf at Rocky Creek State Park, just north of Cape Foulweather. The bench, at the westernmost part of the park, is utterly alone and surely rests there because some closet poet in Oregon State Parks chose the site.
You will often find Sonny the husky and me leisurely doing our own thing near the bench. I stare at the undulations while she sniffs around a grassy kingdom of gopher holes.
Sometimes while sitting or reclining on the bench, I'll whip out a notebook, close my eyes, listen to the symphony of the incoming cannonades, and begin to write whatever comes to mind with the intent or non-intent of purging linearity because the various movements in concert with the surging sonic ocean defies narrative convention. All I can say is that if a person sits on the bench and can't escape a linearity of the mind, well, I feel sorry for that person.
My latest waves of consciousness:
Did you know that one of Napoleon's first acts as dictator was banning the teaching of creative writing in French schools? Albert Einstein once wrote, "A society's competitive advantage will come not from how well its schools teach the multiplication and periodic tables, but from how well they stimulate imagination and creativity." Einstein also wrote, "Imagination is more important than knowledge."
Before dropping out of Reed College, the late Steve Jobs of Apple fame took a course in calligraphy. It reportedly influenced his aesthetic sensibility and inspired his elegant ideas for the Macintosh's simple design.
As a fourth grader attending Mt. Pleasant Elementary in Oregon City during the 1970s, I took a required calligraphy course. It was the great modern era of American calligraphy, taught for no practical reason other than the fact that it was ancient, tactile, and the quintessence of understated beauty in black and white. Calligraphy certainly had nothing to do with standards or testing or preparing me to serve the country's global economic interests more efficiently. My Oregon public education had nothing to do with that — ever. Things have changed, as Bob Dylan once sang, and I see absolutely no evidence we are any better as a culture as a result.
So what if a high school boy spent half his day working in the auto or metal shop? Next year, that boy has to earn three credits in math at the Algebra 1 or higher level to graduate.
That requirement is totally insane. Who brooked that insanity?
My so-called mathless generation turned out okay. In fact, we led the way to America becoming the world's leading producer of creative media, easily our number-one commodity export. Interestingly enough, I did hear that there's a cool calligraphy app for my new iPhone. A couple of my artistic students rave about it.
Speaking of my new iPhone, after using it for two months, I have discovered that it has had no discernible positive effect on my life, which contradicts everything everyone who owns one told me. I have a mind to throw it in the ocean but don't want to bother the whales.
On the subject of whales, in the last three months, I've read about a dozen books on them. Apparently, they might be the most advanced creatures in existence. According to some researchers, whales practice true democracy, have organized religions, and compose orchestras for one another. They also had the good sense to abandon the land and continue their evolution in the sea. Moreover, in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, the greatest whale movie of all time, aliens visited earth long before the advent of human beings and established first contact with humpback whales. They became friends and grooved on ecology together. The aliens returned millions of years later but discovered their cetacean friends had gone extinct. Thus the aliens... well, see the movie for yourself, at least for the memorable scene where Spock's mind melds with a whale.
One day, assuming any whales survive the Age of Man, they most likely will inherit the ocean because the meek will have nothing left to inherit of the land. Idea for bumper sticker: "Make Whales Not War." Would they sell that at the whale-watching shops?
I gave a literary presentation at the West Linn Library a month ago. After the event, an elderly woman came up and asked, "Do you recognize me?" I looked at her for exactly one second and remembered. How can you ever forget one of your best teachers? Ms. Katie Sauber, sixth grade. Here she was, some 40 years later, supporting her former student.
What an editor! She taught us art every day! She was the queen of teaching with tactile methods. Some days, recess lasted for hours and she went back inside. She demanded utter excellence in everything and never accepted any response from students that smacked of the dreaded malaise known today as "whatever."
I asked what she recalled of my 12-year-old self.
"Very opinionated," she said, smiling. She bought three books and I warned her of some profanity. She smiled about that too.
Tom McCall's 100th birthday is Friday, March 22. Have you laid in enough Cutty Sark for the occasion? We're celebrating in grand style at the Jack London Bar in Portland on Saturday, March 23, at 8:00 p.m. I'm teaming with the Dill Pickle Club and Kiss Ass Oregon History to take this celebration over the top. I hope to see you there for an unforgettable lesson in Oregon history. I plan on making it tactile.
Idea for bumper sticker: "Make Tom Not
by Matt Love, February 14, 2013 12:16 PM
Question: What's the most memorably creative use of kelp you've ever witnessed on tan Oregon beach?
- Jump rope
- Photographic subject for greeting cards
- Harness for a driftwood sled pulled by huskies
- Rotunda fort
- Whip for practice S&M
- Teenage fashion statement
- Dog toy
- Riding crop
- Percussion instrument
- Coiled decoration on a pagan monolith
- Typography for a love letter in the sand
- Pointing directions to a secret hideaway
Excellent candidates all of these, but none of them compare to the wonder I discovered not long ago.
It was a rare rainless afternoon in late November, and I was walking my neighbor's dog, Crazy Country Maddie, down the beach after a big storm. We dodged dozens of huge entangled piles of kelp at the wrack line and they vaguely reminded me of creatures from a Jules Verne novel.
A quarter mile into our jaunt, something distant to the north captured my attention: a strand of kelp originating at the base of a cliff that snaked 75 yards westward to the ocean before ending atop a drift log partially submerged in sand.
Curious, I jogged over to investigate. Five minutes later I found myself sprinting back to the house with Maddie to retrieve my camera. I simply had to document the most marvelous engineering project I've encountered in all my 15 years of relentless rambling down Oregon Coast's publicly owned beaches.
It was a magisterial work of public art, a fountain made entirely of kelp that must have taken all day to conceive and construct, cost nothing, and had approximately 15 minutes left to survive before the incoming tide demolished it.
How many people noticed the fountain that afternoon? I might have been the only one.
Thank the spirit of journalism and behold:
Water collects in a catch basin at the base of the cliff.
Pipe lengths cut from kelp.
Water flows downhill through pipe.
The pipe ends at a drift log.
Water spurts out of the fountain.
Up close on the fountain.
The fountain's maker leaves a signature behind.
Not long after a version of this story appeared in a coastal magazine I write for, I was ordering a beer at the Salty Dawg bar in Waldport when a man from my neighborhood came up and said, "The guy that made the Kelp Fountain is here with me."
"What? Here? I've got to meet him," I said. I don't think I've ever wanted to meet a living Oregonian more.
Every once and a great while, a writer is fortunate to unravel a beautiful mystery by virtue of writing about it for publication.
Such is the case with the magical Kelp Fountain.
I walked up to a table decorated with Bloody Marys and gentlemen fishermen. Outside, all things crabbing on Alsea Bay were going down in noisy, colorful splendor. My neighbor introduced me to Geof, and I learned the inspiring story of this magnificent work of public art that the tide swept away 15 minutes after I viewed it. To my total astonishment, Geof wasn't a former engineer and didn't claim any special sensibility for aesthetics.
An hour later, I opened an email at home and read:
We read your article about the kelp fountain constructed on Thanksgiving Day by my husband, son, daughter and grandchildren. The fountain was the concept of my husband, Geof, who enjoys using whatever is available on the beach to create a project that our family can do all together. Construction required about two to three hours and everyone contributed, even our littlest guy. We want our grandchildren to enjoy their time at the beach and their Grandpa's imagination makes it happen. The kids wrote their last name in the sand to sign their work.
We loved your article and thanks for appreciating a project that made our Thanksgiving special.
When I received this email, which also included a photograph of the construction crew, Geof had not yet told his wife that he had met me in the bar. There was a synchronicity about all of this that frequently happens to me in connection to my beach adventures. I have no explanation for them whatsoever and don't know why they keep occurring.
I do know something, though. I know that every family that finds themselves celebrating Thanksgiving (or any holiday, for that matter) at the Oregon coast after a big storm should eat a hearty meal, give thanks to Oregon's unprecedented legacy of publicly owned beaches, and go build a kelp fountain or driftwood fort together. You can always watch televised sports later... or not at
by Matt Love, January 30, 2013 10:00 AM
To lay hands on the Rock is to feel inspired and imbued: inspired to believe that a politician with vision can enhance the lives of all his constituents, and imbued to never give up fighting for the great birthright and soul of Oregon — our publicly owned beaches — which undergo constant siege by the dark forces of prudery and privatization.
Actually, the Rock is a lot more than a mere rock; it has a plaque attached to it and overlooks one of the finest views on the West Coast:
The plaque reads:IF SIGHT OF SAND AND SKY AND SEA
HAS GIVEN RESPITE FROM YOUR DAILY CARESTHEN PAUSE TO THANK
FORMER GOVERNOR OF OREGON (1911-1915)BY HIS FORESIGHT
NEARLY 400 MILES OF THE OCEAN SHORE
WAS SET ASIDE FOR PUBLIC USE
FROM THE COLUMBIA RIVER ON THE NORTH
TO THE CALIFORNIA BORDER ON THE SOUTHTHIS MARKER IS ERECTED AND DEDICATED
BY THE GRATEFUL CITIZENS OF OREGON
THIS OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT
IN THE CONSERVATION OF NATURAL RESOURCES
In 1912 Oregon Governor Oswald West rode his horse from Cannon Beach over Arch Cape and Neahkahnie Mountain and into Nehalem. He later said the ride inspired him: "So I came up with a bright idea. And this was very much of a surprise for I have enjoyed but few such in a lifetime. I drafted a simple short bill."
The bill was only 66 words long and masterfully written:
The shore of the Pacific Ocean, between ordinary high tide and extreme low tide, and from the Columbia River on the north to the Oregon and California State line on the south, excepting such portion or portions of such shore as may have heretofore been disposed of by the State, is hereby declared a public highway and shall forever remain open as such to the public.
West said, "I pointed out that thus we would come into miles and miles of highway without cost to the taxpayer. The Legislature and the public took the bait — hook, line and sinker. Thus came public ownership of our beaches."
Sixty-six words. With his law, which passed in 1913 and turns 100 years old this February, Oswald West changed Oregon — and all of our lives — forever. He helped create a unique and dynamic relationship between a state's citizenry and a specific natural resource unlike any other in the country. What it means to be an Oregonian began here. An elected official did that... and an elected official from Oregon can do it again if they think forward like West did.
Maybe every elected official in Oregon should pay a visit to the Rock and lay hands upon it. If they don't feel fired up to make Oregon a better state, they should do us a favor and resign on the spot.
Oswald West also said something else: "No local selfish interest should be permitted, through politics or otherwise, to destroy or even impair this great birthright of our people."
He defined Oregon's "great birthright" as our publicly owned beaches. Amen to that.
In 1913 Oswald West preserved the Promised Sand (wet portions) of our ocean beaches for all Oregon time with his ingenious bill. That same year, a child was born in Egypt, Massachusetts. One day he would become the most beloved governor in Oregon history and preserve the Promised Sand (dry portions) of our ocean beaches for all Oregon time by signing the 1967 Beach Bill into Oregon law and legend. His name was Tom McCall, and if he were alive today, he would also be celebrating a 100th birthday this year. When that time comes, on March 22 at the Lincoln City Cultural Center, will you party hard with me? If you love the beach like I do, I really must insist.
I almost forgot to mention the location of the Rock. Take Highway 101 into Oswald West State Park just north of Manzanita. There's a pullout on the west side of the road that offers an incredible view of Manzanita, the ocean, and beyond. You can't possibly miss it unless you're glued to your phone and you drive right by. Park and get out of your vehicle. Find the Rock and strike a pose. Get the phone out, take some photographs, and then send them dancing around the world with a grammatical caption of appreciation to Oswald West.
(For more on West's important tenure as governor, check out Joe R. Blakely's informative new book, Oswald West: Governor of Oregon
by Matt Love, January 16, 2013 10:00 AM
I've had three Deep Throats in my Oregon literary career. Each put me on to something incredible that enriched my recounting of modern Oregon history.
For the uninitiated, Deep Throat was the code name of the legendarily secret source who helped Woodward and Bernstein unravel Watergate and overthrow a paranoid criminal in the White House, Richard Nixon. It's also the name of the infamous pornographic film released in 1972 that was the subject of countless legal battles for many years.
In my mind, a Deep Throat is a person in authority who is uniquely and intimately connected to a fantastic story and is willing to share but does not want to go on record. Background only. Hints. Leads. Names. Allusions. Documents you can inspect but not keep.
I met the latest one in August 2012 in the parking lot of the Newport Starbucks. We had intended on drinking tasteless corporate coffee, but an electrical fire had temporarily closed the place, so we sat outside on the patio while streams of people walked away visibly angry when they learned the horrible truth.
Deep Throat had two folders of papers in his possession. There was, indeed, a flower pot nearby (you'll have to read All the President's Men to understand that reference). He began narrating his story and how he found me through my book about the filming of Sometimes a Great Notion. The source was originally from Eugene and knew Ken Kesey well back in the creamery days and interacted with him several times in subsequent years.
"I slept on the bus," he said, relating an amusing story of visiting Kesey at Perry Lane, Kesey's bizarre bohemian community in Palo Alto during the early 1960s. "But only once. I had to get out of there before the place got raided."
I agreed it was probably a good idea to leave, and then I started firing questions. He looked me over and began answering.
As I said, I've had three Deep Throats. All were semi-elderly white men and totally unassuming in character. All were well off financially and had nothing to gain and no private agenda to advance, which was certainly not the case with Mark Felt, Woodward and Bernstein's source. After Felt died, we learned he wanted to get even with the Nixon Administration for passing him over for promotion in the FBI.
I met my first Deep Throat in 2004 by sheer accident in the Sportsman's Tavern in Pacific City while I was writing a book about Vortex I, the notorious free, state-sponsored rock festival held in McIver Park near Estacada in August 1970. I was discussing the project with a man at the bar. Deep Throat overheard us. He casually interjected and said he knew Oregon Governor Tom McCall in the 1970s and knew him well. He was on the inside. Would I like to move down the bar and hear about the real McCall and his unprecedented support of an event like Vortex?
Yes, I would.
"Okay, I'll tell you, but I will never give my name. That's the deal. Take it or leave it," he said.
I took it.
He talked for an hour and I took notes on napkins with Oregon Keno pencils. I barely had to ask any questions.
Later, every lead panned out. Every one of his stories either confirmed someone else's or was subsequently confirmed by people who didn't know him. I couldn't attribute anything directly to him, but he shined a light into some very intriguing dark corners, particularly the problems related to McCall's drug-addicted son, Sam, who later died of an overdose.
The truly interesting thing about this Deep Throat was his belief that Vortex was an utterly trivial story, a historical nude-hippie sideshow. "C'mon! A rock festival?" he said loudly, mockingly.
As I left the tavern, he said, or I should say screamed, "I reject your thesis that Vortex matters, but don't fuck it up!"
I like to think I didn't in The Far Out Story of Vortex I.
Deep Throat number two emerged in Astoria during the time I was working on my book Red Hot and Rollin' about the 1977 Portland Trail Blazers' NBA championship team. I was there promoting the Vortex book and met a man in attendance who later told me his astonishing and completely unacknowledged role in helping the Blazers win the franchise's only title. One word: marijuana. Another word: supplier. If you ever saw how that team played or the film Fast Break, the obscure 1978 documentary about their improbable championship run, you just know this Deep Throat was telling the truth.
Even David Halberstam didn't get the marijuana story in his classic account of the Blazers of that era, The Breaks of the Game. I made a subtle allusion to this Deep Throat's tale in my book and dearly wanted to reveal the whole wonderful stoner reality, but I gave my word and he trusted me. That's the main reason I've been successful as an Oregon writer and am able to get people to share their stories, documents, and photographs; I don't sell them out.
When Deep Throat number three started answering my questions, I knew I was onto gold. At some point in our conversation he produced a document from a folder. I read its ancient typewritten pages and could not believe that in all my research of all things Kesey, I had never seen it.
I cannot reveal its contents due to strictures of exclusivity and the fact that Kesey enthusiasts don't have easy access to his papers. All I can say is that with one check written to acquire the Ken Kesey archives and house them permanently at the University of Oregon where they spiritually belong, thereby ensuring their easy access, Duck alumnus Phil Knight could perform an infinitely more worthwhile cultural service than his continuing multimillion-dollar support of the cultural farce that is big-time University of Oregon athletics.
The document offered a small gem of a revelation, particularly in light of the fact that One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest celebrated its 50th birthday in 2012. It won't rock the literary establishment, but it is fun, and disclosing something fun is something I love doing with my writing. What an interesting notion: journalism employed to elicit joy.
Despite my pledge not to reveal the contents of the document, I can share another Kesey tale — the possible origins of the Joe Ben drowning-under-the-log scene from Sometimes a Great Notion, one of the more memorable episodes in American literature and cinema. Deep Throat told me that Kesey recalled an incident in his youth when he and his brother Chuck were rafting down the central fork of the Willamette River. A windblown tree stretched across the river and appeared to block passage. The Kesey brothers attempted floating under the tree but the raft got hung up. Chuck was somehow trapped, somewhat submerged in the current, at risk of drowning.
by Matt Love, January 2, 2013 10:00 AM
I stood in a downpour on my deck and looked across the street. The sun was throwing a narrow spotlight on my neighbor's dry roof. This meant it was raining like the Battle of Stalingrad: moving block by block, house to house.
Normally, I would venture to my local beach near Newport and watch the rain collide with the ocean, one of the more serene applications of nature and completely unavailable to download to any phone or computer.
But in recent months, visits to my beach had enraged me, and I absolutely loathed returning from my walks in such a vitriolic state. I let go at the beach, never take up. I didn't like this unpleasant reversal.
A six-letter dirty word, the most profane word on the Oregon Coast, was the culprit: riprap — or revetment, as it's officially called. A new riprap project near my home approved by the somnolent stewards of Oregon's unique legacy of publicly owned beaches had tainted my walks, because I couldn't stop photographing the desecration. Documenting the desecration of Oregon's quintessence is hardly uplifting. Indeed, it makes the soul sick.
Never heard of riprap? Allow me to define it: the placing of large boulders on beaches to protect ill-conceived structures from collapsing into the sea where they rightfully belong. Limited editorial space prevents a full disquisition on the ecologically unsound and downright-ugly practice of riprap. Find me on Facebook if you want to see some shocking photos and read my tirades.
No, today I couldn't bear seeing the new, hideous riprap, so I loaded Sonny, my husky, into the truck, and we went to meet the rain at Ona Beach in the Beaver Creek State Natural Area. Some unexpected and soothing act of magic always occurs at Ona, and I can never predict what source will generate it. Could be Russian Old Believers playing golf. Could be salmon riding a freshet up Beaver Creek. Could be a teal wave breaking in Emily Dickinson fashion — slant-wise.
We hit the beach and saw no other humans. About a hundred gulls sat in the estuary debating something. The sky hovered like a jagged gray-black cake and showers blew lightly from south to north. Then there was light. It was still raining.
And then, a quarter of dim rainbow emerged from the cake and sunk into the ocean. I extracted a cheap digital camera from the pocket of my corduroy coat and started shooting away. More light manifested and better illuminated the rainbow. The cake dissolved and out jumped a full rainbow. Then a double rainbow faded into view and reflections of rainbows appeared everywhere on the sand. Have you ever walked on a rainbow? I have now.
Sonny and I started running to the rainbow, which arced so huge I couldn't capture it entirely in the frame. Yes, we ran in the rain because we knew of the rainbow's elusive, transient nature. At some point, when the light seemed perfect, I halted, set the camera on self-timer, anchored it in the sand, and took more photographs.
The rainbow festival lasted 20 minutes, and several cars pulled off Highway 101 to witness the spectacle. As Sonny and I left the beach in the rain, I felt invigorated after documenting beauty once again. On the drive home listening to Led Zeppelin, the greatest rain band of all time, I formulated an interesting new existential axiom: in the long run, rainbows disintegrate the riprap of people's
by Matt Love, December 19, 2012 10:00 AM
It had rained nearly four inches in 24 hours as Christmas approached. Portland weathermen had gone deep into their online thesauruses for novel and moronic adjectives (e.g., "wicked") to anthropomorphize a routine coastal storm. Wind had whipped through the neighborhood, toppling trees and lawn gnomes. Everything was puddled and reflecting. Reflections generated from rain are the most beautifully mirrored images in the world, especially when they involve Christmas lights.
Did you know that famous crime novelist Elmore Leonard once cautioned aspiring writers to never use the word "suddenly" in fiction when something dramatic instantly occurs? He said it was pure cliché. Hackneyed.
This is a romance story in the rain, so...
SUDDENLY I felt a call to visit the beach.
Yes, I hear that call four times a day, but this sound was different, new, original, sort of like hearing Sgt. Pepper for the first time even though the album is nearing 50 years old.
I loaded Sonny into the truck and we drove to the beach. Rain peppered us like a spread from a shotgun blast. The waves rolled a hearty brown and blue, and sea foam scurried north across the sand, piling up here and there. Bubbles shimmied for seconds and then glancing rain broke them apart in dignified silence. White gulls spun in a gray and black sky. The rain instantly stopped, and a tiny porthole opened to the sun. I didn't see another human for miles and that made me happy. I could feast alone on "the salt air loaded with cream for our breathing," as the poet Richard Hugo wrote. I didn't breathe it; I swallowed.
Sonny and I cruised south, and then I saw her looking out to the ocean. Even from afar she appeared gorgeous, as only antediluvian things washed ashore can appear.
I moved toward her, wondering what I might say, wondering if she would deign to converse with me. That is, if she spoke English, which I desperately hoped she did not. I didn't want to hear her speak the debased language of politicians and reality TV stars with their bogus coloring from fake sun.
Sonny didn't follow me. My dog was more interested in canine messages deposited at the wrack line.
I greeted her; she nodded, winked, and tossed back her long hair, which was colored a dark grayish-green. She wore no makeup unless you counted the jagged lines of salt that marked her face. I had difficulty concentrating because of her exquisite beauty, and the fact that she wasn't wearing any clothes and didn't have any legs. She never said a word, but we communicated nonetheless. Rain is like that. As it turns out, her least favorite word is "whatever," she has no need for a smartphone, and she loathes the oil industry for its despoiling ways. She's also bored with overly aggrieved fishermen with their boatloads of Freudian defense mechanisms, compensation being the chief one.
Christmas, though, she totally loved, and she somehow managed to communicate to me that she had once gleefully come across Orson Welles washed up drunk on a beach, in costume, after a performance of The Christmas Carol. He was a perfect gentleman and just wanted another cognac.
At one point, the mermaid smiled and gestured toward my camera stuffed halfway in the pocket of my peacoat.
I caught her drift.
She was an excellent model and taught me a thing or two about the photographic uses of sea foam and the rain.
An hour later, I had a date for a picnic on the rocks at Boiler Bay. I'd bring kelp and vodka. She was bringing fresh rain, shot glasses, mussels, garlands, and a flute crafted from the horn of an ancient narwhal.
Her name? I wish I could pronounce it. It sounded vaguely Nordic and a little bit James
by Matt Love, December 5, 2012 10:00 AM
I'd like to announce the winner of the fourth annual Powell's On Oregon blog "Book of the Year" [see last year's winner
]. I'm the sole judge, I live in Oregon, and the book I pick has to be about Oregon in some way, either as a topic or through the setting. It could be a new release, a forgotten classic, or totally obscure. It could come from a national publisher or printed by a local copy shop. Whatever the book's origins, I simply happened across it in my routine fixation of all things literary Oregon, and it blew my mind. After reading the book, I felt an intense desire to share it with others.
There are no nominees — just a winner. I may know the winning writer or I may not. He may have handed me the book in a bar, drunk. She may have flung it at me in a post-coital rage. Who cares? This process is probably a lot more honest than those that determine most regional and national literary awards.
This award carries no monetary prize. There is no certificate. Maybe I'll scrape up a little trophy corroding in a thrift store and shine it up to look nice. Maybe I'll take the winner out and get them drunk on cheap Pacific Northwest lagers formerly brewed in the Pacific Northwest by union men.
And the winner is: Brave on the Page: Oregon Writers on Craft and the Creative Life, edited by Laura Stanfill, a wonderful and illuminating collection of writing and interviews from Oregon authors. It's easily the most quintessential Oregon book I've encountered in a very long time. Anyone with aspirations to become a writer or publisher should read it. (Full disclosure: I was interviewed for the book and have published 12 books about Oregon through my company, Nestucca Spit Press.)
Brave on the Page is a brave literary endeavor indeed. Stanfill, a former reporter and managing editor of newspapers turned as-of-yet unpublished novelist, started her own press, Forest Avenue, to produce and distribute Brave on the Page via the new Espresso Book Machine process.
Stanfill steered her literary career in a very different direction after she was unable to break into the conventional publishing world with her novels. Many authors give up after multiple rejections. Others find one of the many routes to self-publishing. And there are a few mavericks who decide to do more than write books, which is the easy part of the publishing process. Distribution and promotion are what really require the hard, indefatigable work, and I say this as someone who has given almost 500 presentations over the last decade in support of my books.
Stanfill realized that drastic changes in the industry provided a unique opportunity for her to become part of the burgeoning independent literary scene, particularly the one connected to Portland. It meant thinking like a publisher while still not giving up writing. It meant refusing to feel embittered because the big break hadn't happened. It meant that by helping other writers, you help yourself as a writer.
Recently, I posed a few questions to Stanfill about Brave on the Page and her decision to start a press and embrace a radical new publishing concept. What follows is that Q&A.
÷ ÷ ÷
Matt Love: What made you start your own press and bring out a book like Brave on the Page? Was there an epiphany?
Laura Stanfill: Two years ago, I launched the Seven Questions interview series on my blog, and as more big-name authors started participating, I wondered about collecting some of that rich, original material in book form. The first epiphany came this spring, when the Espresso Book Machine arrived at Powell's. I was inspired by the community-based twist on print-on-demand publishing. My blog series features writers from everywhere, but I chose to focus on the Oregon writers for Brave on the Page, particularly because I wanted local readers and writers to be able to get the book printed, made to order, at Powell's.
A subsequent epiphany about the book's content occurred while chatting with a few critique-group friends one evening. An idea just popped out of my mouth — asking people to submit 250-300–word essays on who, what, when, where, why, or how in relation to writing. We ended up with 27 of these tiny, beautiful pieces that touch on many aspects of the creative life. I think of that collection-within-a-collection as the heart of the book, while the 15 author interviews are its bones and muscles.
Love: What was the initial reception of the writers you contacted to interview and include?
Stanfill: They were excited to be asked, and almost everyone said yes before I had fully wrapped my arms around the project. I avoided a formal call for essay submissions because I'm tapped into several writing communities, and those writers then suggested other writers. The pages filled up fast!
Love: What kind of books will Forest Avenue Press bring out in the future?
Stanfill: I plan to publish several books each year, with a focus on quiet novels by Oregon writers. A lot of very talented authors have found little traction in the traditional market due to the current focus on high-concept novels. In quiet novels, relationships reign, and often the world changes the individual instead of the individual changing the world. Coming-of-age stories fit into my definition of a quiet novel, and so does the work of some of my favorite writers — Julia Glass, Anne Tyler, Ann Patchett, and Richard Russo. Forest Avenue Press will be open for submissions from Oregon residents from January 1 to March 1, 2013.
I'm also planning to publish more anthologies about the craft of writing. Brave on the Page is the first volume of the Seven Questions series, and the next is due out in the fall of 2013. I'm conducting new author interviews and looking for flash essays on place, as it relates to writing. I want pieces that take the prompt and whisk it in surprising directions. While there will be plenty of opportunities for Oregon writers to be involved in Volume II, it'll showcase some of my national interviews as well.
Love: This book has a new point-of-purchase model. Can you explain how the Espresso Book Machine works and what are some of the challenges you face as a publisher with this model? How many machines are there in Oregon?
Stanfill: The Espresso Book Machine is my printer and primary distributor. Each book takes about four minutes to print, once the glue is warmed up, and it'