I do not know how to describe this place to honor it properly. Or how to ever repay it for the kindness and healing it has shown me. But, I will do my best with my simple words so that, even for one second, you can ‘feel’ it, too.
Peace flags faded from sunlight hang askew from porch dormers. And the uneven steps prop bright colored pots full of chive, dianthus and chamomile which people pluck directly to season their meals; even the restaurants. Every porch is inviting with a swing and creations by local artisans crafted from metal and retimbered wood; punctuated with mosaic bird baths and resident blue jays who live out loud.
Pollen gardens invite me to lie in the grass in the shade of the nearby Redwoods and the bees are more interested in the flowers than in me so I just listen to the buzz of their wings; to the buzz of real living happening all around me.
This is the land of 1967 Ford and Chevy trucks with Bluetick dogs hanging out of the windows; tongues flapping in the breeze along the Umpqua creek bed. Beautiful braless women in short summer dresses tie their dreadlocks in a knot and ride their Huffy bikes (with baskets and bells on the handlebars) into downtown Ashland. They park them by the fountain spouting bicarbonate mineral water from the local springs. And the Volkswagen buses from the Summer of Love congregate here as well in droves for their own private Woodstock. Some are for transportation. Some are for habitation. All are covered in peace signs with Tibetan prayer beads dangling from the rearview mirror.
The fog rolls in during the morning hours and blankets the Rogue Valley with a thick cover as if to tuck me in again and remind me to rest myself. Everyone here abides without apology. An extra hour of sleep, a gentle chai tea, a hike along the trails, mala matras, or an impromptu sunrise yoga gathering in Lithia Park with others who value life in the same way. Life is too important to bustle here. Here it strolls instead.
In every direction there is a mountain view topped with whispering clouds. Some are brown and capture the frolicking shadows of the day as the sun ticks over the valley. Others are covered in pine trees of every sort from the robust lodgepole that commands an audience to the western white pine that resembles a large bottle brush or the awkward kid in 4th grade. It takes no time at all to get to the ocean, the sequoias, Mount Shasta, hot springs or other spiritual places to love and to heal.
Rambling country roads take you through tiny towns with roadside espresso shacks in vibrant hues along stretches of nothingness; tarps for walls and adjunct herb dispensaries in the back. There are fresh eggs for sale out of a 1940s rusted out Chevy truck and bundles of fresh picked wildflowers for 25 cents apiece. And when I arrive at our destination, Crater Lake, there are secrets that I never experienced before waiting for me – water fed only by snowcap that is the color of the sky, cliff walls of volcanic rock, a random woman in pin striped pants and heart shaped sunglasses appearing at 7,858 feet on a bicycle offering to stop to take a photo of me with daughter who, by the way, loves and appreciates this place as much as I do. And the splendid whitebark pines gnarled but happy along the lake exposure. The steady, harsh western wind makes it impossible for them to grow vegetation on the windward side and forces them to root deeply in order to survive the tempest and the 44 feet of snow that encase them every winter. I feel a kinship with these most of all for they are both tested and beautiful.
Everyone here is odd. Actually, I believe everyone everywhere is odd; but here you are allowed to show it comfortably with no judgment. The attitude is one of acceptance for and respect toward other humans and their differences, the environment and life itself. There are no plastic bags here; and if you want a paper bag you need to pay extra for your lack of planning. People make eye contact and greet one another. They pay genuine notice and compliment when warranted. They touch you. They stop to help when it is needed.
There are pear trees, black huckleberry, hazelnut and grape. Every menu has gluten free and vegan options. People care deeply about what they ingest be it food, words or energy; and refuse to allow the harmful ones in which is completely consistent with my new journey. And, with this good soil, other things grow here as well such as loyalty, decency and trust.
This week I played drums in the park by the marble fountain where the acoustics resonate through the trees. I did ecstatic dance to connect physically and spiritually with other human beings in a primal way that cannot be explained. I gave Shakespeare another chance attending “Much Ado about Nothing” at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and danced more traditionally with complete strangers at the Green Show to live music performed by talented artists from around the world. And, with one of my oldest and dearest friends holding my hand and gently stroking my side, I finally placed the healing tattoo on my left rib cage to support my quest for joy and transformation. It was one of the most intense experiences in my life thus far. In short, I lived.
I fill my lungs more deeply when I am here.
I feel happy when I am here.
I feel safe and I am open to all of life when I am here.
Until today, I thought it was impossible that Ashland could ever be more beautiful than it already is. But today is the day that I plant my lovely daughter in this rich soil to grow.
I know that her blue eyes and the sincerity behind them will lend themselves to the tapestry of this place and bless any who are lucky enough to greet them. I know that her intelligence will inspire people to think bigger than they do today. And her gentle compassion will encourage them to be more compassionate themselves. I know these things because I labored and fought for room to allow her to become who she is today. It’s strange and wonderful to know that the birthplace of my soul will now become the place that nurtures the soul that I, myself, created. I cannot think of a greater honor than to have connected the two in this wonderful, Karmic way.
This morning I will hold her one more time. I will make sure she has what she needs and then wrap my favorite sweater around her tiny shoulders. I wore it to keep me warm while I sat by her hospital bed. I wore it to her concerts and award ceremonies. I sometimes wore it to bed when I missed the kids the most. She says it’s like wearing one of my hugs because it has been such a part of our every day. And when it is time to leave I will walk away with a heavy but grateful heart and I will head to the Buddhist Temple at Colestin Valley for a day of reflection; then on to the airport to make my way back to my other children who also need me.
Namaste, Mack. The Light in me honors the Light in you.
Save me a spot on the porch swing for when I finally come Home for good.