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Archive for the 'On Oregon' Category

My Most Important Writing

A crucial deadline looms. I've walked the beach to marshal my ideas. I'm finally ready to write a story that could change everything.

But not for me.

At my desk I begin: "If any one student can be said to have a widespread positive impact on his school, Ethan is the one. But how does he do it? Student council? No. Community service? No. Sports titles? No. He does it through rock and roll. Really loud rock and roll."

Thirty minutes later, I have completed yet another recommendation for a Newport High School senior who needs my best writing to gain admittance to a university he dreams of attending or earn a scholarship to the higher education he and his family can't possibly afford. He faces fierce competition from fellow seniors in the elite and richer Portland area and Willamette Valley schools. I know I have to write my best because of the potential to make a crucial difference in my student's life.

I write essays, articles, sermons, reviews, columns, polemics, blogs, and books, but I consider writing recommendation letters for graduating seniors my most important work.

In the past four and ...


Legends of the Arch Bridge

"There is nothing in machinery, there is nothing in embankments and railways and iron bridges and engineering devices to oblige them to be ugly. Ugliness is the measure of imperfection," wrote H.G. Wells. One gets the feeling that Oregon master bridge builder Conde McCullough read Wells and took his exhortation to heart, because Conde didn't know how to build an ugly bridge.

But other engineers did, and sometimes Conde despaired about their gracelessness. In a letter to a friend written in 1937, he complained:

From the dawn of civilization up to the present, engineers have been busily engaged in ruining this fair earth and taking all the romance out of it. They have cluttered up God's fair landscape with hideous little buildings and ugly railroads. The highway builders have ruined all the fishing so that there is no place where one can go and get away from it all. As a last and final insult, there appears to be a movement on foot to clutter up the right of way with blazing artificial lights at night so that there will be no place on the road for the young folk to park and engage in their usual amorous avocations. There is no romance nor poetry left in the world...

Conde, on the grand occasion of reopening the Arch Bridge that spans the Willamette River between Oregon City and West Linn, may I say, sir, you are wrong.


Carson’s Magical Encounters

To begin our day, Sonny the husky and I hit the beach at dawn. We like to honor a sacred passage written by Evelyn Waugh: "In all the diurnal revolution these first fresh hours alone are untainted by man."

Completely true. Nothing provides me greater joy than rambling the beach with my old dog in the early morning, not seeing another human being, and occasionally encountering something magical in nature.

I relish these encounters, although I do not purposely seek them. But when they do occur, well, as C. G. Jung wrote, "If you said you had looked deeply into the eyes of an animal, people would say you were mad. But for the individual it is an uncanny and profound experience which contains absolute truth."

We were in luck. No hominid pollution, unless of course you count their sinister and ubiquitous plastic. I brought along a camera because every once in a great while, I luck out and document an encounter.

It was something like 6 a.m. Black coffee bounced in my travel mug distributed by a pharmaceutical giant to advertise a drug in the alleged interest of mental health. ...


More Waves of Consciousness

I eagerly await the hard rains of winter on the Oregon coast. Life always becomes leaner and my writing begins to move in mysterious, fluid directions. I feel a new book coming on.

But, for now, fall lingers, pumpkins ripen, high school football teams clash spiritedly in the night, and I habitually visit my beach with Sonny the husky, stare at the ocean, ride a wave of consciousness in the past and present tense, and write with the intent of purging linearity because the awesome liquid in front of me defies a single literary dimension.

The latest wave:

My teaching job at Newport High started a month ago, and I can't get something one of my seniors wrote out of my mind. She opened her "Story of My Life" essay with one of the most elegantly poignant paragraphs I have ever read. Her family had to leave their home and horses in Montana because of some unstated calamity. Snow was falling. The car was packed up and the Oregon Coast beckoned as the new Promised Land. The family had lost everything but they still had each other, only each other, ...


On Cell-Phone Solitude

"Contemporary Western culture makes the peace of solitude difficult to attain. The telephone is an ever-present threat to privacy...and the invention of the car telephone has ensured that drivers who install it are never out of touch with those who want to talk to them."

So wrote Anthony Storr in his book Solitude: A Return to the Self. I bought it not long ago from a coastal thrift store for a quarter and read it practically in one sitting.

Solitude's publication date? Nineteen eighty-eight. I hardly need say what came next with communications. Remaining in solitude is probably the hardest thing for most people to do in Western culture today. I'll bet many of you reading this are having a very hard time doing this very thing at the coast.

Commentators frequently place the primary blame on cell phones, but really, fault lies with the addicts who habitually wield them. I say all this with a unique perspective because I live near the number-one tourist attraction in the region and routinely see tourists on the beach allowing cell phones to conquer their solitude. And I'm not talking about using them ...


Waves of Consciousness

In recent weeks I've started a new habit of going to the beach with Sonny the husky and a spiral notebook. I'll find a comfortable drift log, dune, or slice of riprap, sit down on the sand, stare at the ocean, perhaps snap a photograph with my film fish-eye camera, peruse my notes, and write with absolutely no editorial agenda in mind. I also actively resist any notion of linear thinking. I ride a wave in my mind of the past and present tense.

Here's what resulted:

A friend tipped me off to an opening of a classic American novel I'd never read, an opening he thought I should know about: It goes like this: "When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home. I was wishing I looked like Paul Newman — he looks tough and I don't." Never in a million years would I have guessed The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton, begins this way.

I read this in the Oregonian: "Oregon last month signed all nine assistant ...


Love at Hart’s Cove

On a magnificent sunny morning in July, Rose and I hiked to roiling foam at Hart's Cove on the Cascade Head trail. When we reached the end of the trail, which overlooks perhaps the best untainted (i.e., development-free) view on the Oregon Coast, we found two young women climbing a Sitka spruce.

Rose and I hadn't seen each other for over a year, but it took all of 10 seconds to find our groove and start talking the good candid talk of great friends. We exchanged recent breakup stories and tales from our respective employment fronts: mine, teaching; hers, nursing. We also occasionally reminisced about our former relationship and the magical times we experienced: inside Fort Clatsop, atop Mount Hebo, on Drift Creek Bridge, at the Matt Kramer Memorial, in the dunes of Nestucca Spit. I've never met anyone in my life as hard-core Oregonian as Rose.

We conversed with the tree climbers, who were clearly a couple. They had traveled from San Diego and grown up in Eugene. Both were blonde and they had met at the University of Oregon. They exhibited superb energy together, and Rose and ...


Thank You, Gore Vidal, from an Oregon Writer

My great political and literary mentor died on July 31.

His name was Gore Vidal, and I read all but one of his 30-something books. I own 18.

I remember exactly when I discovered him: it was 1988 and I inhabited a spacious two-bedroom Portland apartment on SE Belmont. It had a fireplace and a balcony that overlooked a dilapidated phone booth, a former crack house, a Thai restaurant managed by a young lunatic, and a convenience store owned by a Vietnamese man who worked harder than anyone I've ever seen. I paid $350 a month in rent, and old, gray Portland didn't have a shred of irony then.

Cindy, who became my wife a decade later, lived with me that first year. Then we broke up and I lived there until the winter of 1990.

Speaking of winter, that one in Portland in 1988 was brutal. The oil for the furnace ran out one weekend and it got so cold the water in the toilet bowl froze. I heated the living room by burning my least favorite paperback novels. I distinctly remember enjoying ...


The Better Sex Magic of “Seal Rock”‘s Gray

What is the official color of the Pacific Northwest Coast? Let a poet define it:

[I]t happens when I begin my little ritual of naming the colors. That's grey, I say. That is not grey, I say. But more than grey, a white grey, green grey, blue grey, rose grey — my little ritual — and then, and then it overtakes me.

Now that's sexy, and you don't even have to count to 50.

The poet's name is John Haislip, the poem is "On the Beach Late before Sunset," and it concludes Seal Rock, the finest book of poetry I've ever read about the Oregon Coast and the people who inhabit its landscape. Seal Rock nails the magical, primitive, punishing, damp, gray, reclusive nature of surviving on the soggy monochrome coast with the same vigorous accuracy as Ken Kesey did in Sometimes a Great Notion. And I make that claim because I've lived at the Oregon Coast for 15 years and have had a lot of wet, gray time to read a lot of poetry about the Pacific Northwest.

I only know of Seal Rock's existence because of an ...


Freedom from Prosecution

If a tree falls in an Oregon clearcut, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

If an Oregonian strips naked and dives into the ocean, and no one is around to see, is it a crime?

Not too long ago, Sonny the husky, a friend, and I cruised south down my local beach. No one was around except us.

Something seized me. For some unknown reason, I wanted to rip off all my clothes and jump in the ocean. There was no desperate need for ablution. There was no existential crisis in play. This wasn't some protest against American prudery. I simply felt total elation about all things in this world and wanted to go underwater, then, there, now, and revel in the greatest connection on the planet.

I asked my friend if she wanted to join me. She said "yes." We swiveled around, didn't see anyone, which surprised me because it was four o'clock on a Saturday afternoon and pushing 70 degrees on the Oregon Coast.

Would our plunge constitute a crime? Would some archaic clause in Oregon's Revised Statutes define my spontaneity ...


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