Opinion

The road to Cottage Grove

1990 was a pivotal year in my life and it was time for a change. I left my native Florida in a painted-up Ford van a la Ken Kesey, which I had rigged out to live in. Having had the “On the Road” experience with a backpack and thumb out in the ’70s, I decided to upgrade.
I pointed my nose towards Berkeley, Calif., to visit a buddy who had moved out there, but made a slow meandering trip out of it, staying on blue-line highways the whole way.
When I arrived, I was reminded how nice the climate was on the left coast, having been out before during my vagabonding days. No humidity, cool temps, few biting insects and culturally free compared to the staid South. Of course I was just in time for the Reagan/Bush recession and, for the first time in my life, had to scramble to find work.
Following the Oakland Hills fire, I found a job in the construction trades, but soon tired of building million dollar homes while living in my van.
It was then that I discovered the Brigadoon world of the Renaissance Faire. This magical event was created in 1966 by Phyllis and Ron Patterson and inspired the Oregon Renaissance Fair, which later morphed into the Oregon Country Fair.
I was hired on to the ragtag crew who built, ran and would then tear down the event three times a year. I had heard of the Country Fair for years and when I finally made it up to Veneta in 1992, I came early and asked if they needed help.
No one seemed interested until I mentioned I had my tools with me. That got their attention and I was escorted to the head of construction, who kept me busy right up to the opening and then handed me a camping pass.
That experience has set in stone my summer plans ever since.
After the fair, I spent time camping in Oregon and truly fell in love. The slower pace of the Beaver State reminded me of my southern roots. People I met would often ask “How ya doin?” both really wanting to know and also having the time to talk.
But at the end of each summer I would stubbornly leave Oregon and head south again. I ended up in a lumber mill in Sonoma County still living in my van.
So when the work slowed down, I knew it was time for a change. I dusted off my college degree and was hired to teach science in West Oakland. I had no teaching experience other than Boy Scout camp staff, but they were desperate.
The school district enrolled me into a partnership program where I taught fulltime by day and took classes at night. At the end of two years, I had my teaching license and had found my calling at last.
Having the summers off allowed me to continue spending that time in Oregon each year. I would check out different parts of the state after the Fair, still camping in my old van.
I started looking for a place to settle. When I met my dear wife, Amy, she was delighted that I had set my sights on living in Oregon. She had hiked on the Pacific Crest Trail one summer, and ended up planting trees near Oakridge; she also dreamed of living here.
Well to make a long story short, after a number of summers together looking around Oregon, we acted on a tip from a friend. He suggested we check out Cottage Grove. Somehow I had missed this neck of the woods, so on our way back south we stopped in, looked around, had a bowl of chili at the Axe & Fiddle and decided to give the area a chance the next summer. We did and explored it thoroughly. We finally found the community we were looking for and bought a fixer-upper in 2011.
Thus started out transition of working on the house each summer, (and any other time we could get up) and planning our escape to Oregon. We finally did three years ago, and I am not leaving except in a pine box. Home at last!
P.S. This is being sent from the library in Tallahassee as a result of riding out my first hurricane since 1995. Although it was just like riding a bike, Hurricane Michael cemented my resolve to live the rest of my life in Oregon!