The year-end letter I sent in 1991 describing driving the back roads of America in a 1951 Plymouth and taking disabled kids into the woods.
Dear Friends and Family,
Four years ago I drove my great Aunt’s 1951 Plymouth from Oregon to Washington D.C. and this year, after I was again hired for the summer as Cape Perpetua’s head naturalist, I drove it back.
For the most part I drove on two lane roads that went through towns whose nicknames proved to be much more memorable than their actual names (i.e., I can’t remember their actual names). I drove through the home of the Pumpkin Festival, home of the Buzzard Festival, home of the Walnut Festival, home of the Lt. Governor of Ohio, home of Miss Indiana 1979, a place “On the way to everywhere” (no doubt, because it’s nowhere), and home of the worst food in Oregon. Had I been driving through Ohio in July I would have detoured to Bob Evans’ farm where they have the International Chicken Flying Meet. Chicken ranchers put their fowl on ten-foot launch pads, and proceed to coax, cluck, and cajole them to fly as far as they can.
I guess every place and everyone feels the need to be proud of something. This was brought home to me when I passed my umpteenth dilapidated single-wide mobile-home with a yellow ribbon and a sign that said: “We’re proud to be Americans.”
Did you know the President’s Graveyard isn’t in Washington, D.C., but in Ohio? In the 1800s Nathaniel Wilson willed his family’s cemetery to the presidents. The only prerequisite to being buried in this peaceful spot is to have been president of the United States. Alas, no commander in chief to date has taken him up on his generous offer.
If only I’d crammed my golf clubs in with my boat, I could have gone golfing in the buff. Roselawn, Indiana has a golf course for nudists. My head exploded at thought of Indianans wearing nothing but cleated, white, wing-tip shoes.
By the way: gray dashed lines on a map usually mean a road is unpaved and probably ends 50 miles from nowhere.
My biggest challenge was not climbing over the Rockies, but finding a place to eat in Iowa. Since I have to pop the clutch to start my car, I have to park on a hill. I’d stop and ask people if they could direct me to a restaurant on a hill was and they’d ask back, “Which place are you talking about?” to which I’d reply, “I don’t have a particular place in mind. The food doesn’t even have to be that good. I’m just looking for a place on a hill.”
Just when I was getting a bit bored with Iowa I passed the “World’s Largest Coffee Pot,” a water tower with a handle and spout that claims to be able to hold 640,000 cups of coffee, almost enough to get me through half the plain states.
Last year I shared an office with John, the director of the Cape. He’s a neat freak and the stuff I had lying around as part of my job–plants (dead and alive), bones, skulls, seaweed, rocks, bugs, old photos, etc—was driving him crazy, so while I was away he moved everything down to the “Poop Deck,” an office under the restrooms. It’s really quite cozy and has the ambiance of a Smithsonian warehouse crossed with a fraternity house and, after putting in a couple of old couches, is where it seems half the ranger district comes to unwind.
We did a great program for students from the Oregon School for the Blind. I went down one of our best trails with a bunch of Job Corps students sniffing and mushing about in the dirt, pounding on rotten logs, and flagged 35 areas that appealed to more than just the sense of sight. I then wrote up info about each spot, and gave a copy to the Job Corps students who had volunteered to be personal guides for the kids. We were all set for the big day and as the school bus pulled up I over heard a visitor saying: “Yup, I’m really proud of myself. I tore down all the flags on that trail where they were going to cut down trees.” I ran down the trail and did a pretty good job of reflagging it, though, and I think a good time was had by all.
Shortly after that I got a call from Mobility International. They’d heard about the walk we did for the blind and wanted to know if we could do a program for their students. “Some are blind, some are deaf, some are in wheelchairs, and some have cerebral palsy. None speak English. They’re from Mexico. Do you think there will be a problem organizing some kind of walk for them?” the woman asked. “No problem,” I said, hanging up the phone and saying to one of my interns, “We have a problem.” I recruited every hefty Hispanic student on the Job Corps campus to act as guides and assistants. When the tough looking Job Corps students first met the Mobility International Students, some of whom were shaking and drooling, I thought, “This is going to be an international disaster.” Then one of the kids said, “I’m from Mexico City? Anyone else here from Mexico City.” Soon they were all chatting and laughing and off into the woods we went. We managed to get all of the students to the edge of the tide pools, something not all of our “able bodied” visitors managed. The walk was such a success that our “Sense-able Walk and Roll” became a regular part of Mobility International’s programs. We had groups from all over the world visit and more Job Corps student volunteers than we could handle.
I’ve saved the biggest news for last: I bought an acre and a half of raw outside of Waldport and a twenty-year-old twenty-one foot trailer to live in while I build a house. For the last thirteen years I’ve lived in a four bedroom town house on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., so it’s going to be a major change. I hope I’m up to the challenge.
Hope you and yours are well. Happy Holidays.