Friday, April 3, 2009

Fire on the Mountain

In less than three weeks my son and I will journey to Oregon, the first time for him out of his time zone. Last summer, we were 24 hours away from this trip when his commitment to soccer conflicted, and I allowed a silly cold to get in my own way. It was just not the right time; apparently, I was not yet ready.

“Journey” is a word not used lightly in this context because I think this trip represents a crossroads of emotional importance. Not of considering a choice to be made or different directions to take, this is a juncture that moves both forward and back simultaneously.

I first came to Oregon more than thirty years ago, a fresh-faced East Coast Establishment college graduate trying to grow a beard. Ten years later, I left heart-wrenchingly divorced and separated from my daughters, both shaded and spiritually ignited by the deaths of good friends, scorched by fire, and elated by the prospect of new life and love.

Not sure how to utilize my fine education, but dedicated to the adventurous lifestyle celebrated around Kesey and Kerouac, the opportunity to build a home for my sister on a Cliffside above the ocean seemed perfection indeed. My guitar in hand, a duffle, sleeping bag and tent at my feet, my best friend and companion across the country driving on to exotic San Francisco, I knocked on the door with trepidation and walked into this new life.

For wages of $25 a week and all the beans I could eat, I camped with my brother-out-of-law, an architect, philosopher and stranger at first, and we figured out how to build his dream--all by hand until months later we laid the electric line in the trench carved 300 feet down the mountainside. Sweating all day, I played music into every night, sitting at the fire pit or huddled under the tarp. Weekly, we drove to Portland to clean-up and re-supply.

For six months, the adventure continued, idyllic and free for me: working hard, playing music, exploring the dramatic coast and walking the streets of Portland. I filled journals with scribbles and wrote some songs that sing with me still today.

At 1600 feet, Neahkahnie Mountain (pronounced Nee-a-ka-nee) is rumored to be the highest vertical rise directly out of the Pacific Ocean, an image I would not dispute. The Native Americans revered it as a spiritual sanctuary, and the pulse there seems particularly strong even today. People have migrated and settled on its side or in the Nehalem Valley (“place of peace”) below because they feel a power of connection, some immutable force drawing them together in sacred community. My own experience which I will relate over the next weeks supports this.

Returning this month may well prove to be a momentous experience of grounding the changes I have been making this year. It has been exactly twenty years since I last set foot on the Mountain, years of turmoil and rage, stress and cautious joy. My son has never been there and only in this year has begun to get a sense of the adventures I had living on the Edge of the Earth and how they affected who I am today.

To move forward in life without honoring the footsteps along the way seems unhealthy to me, leading to darker suppressions that need to bore their way out. However much the goal may be to live in the moment, we are truly made of our experiences, and neither good nor bad can be cut from our hearts without suffering pain. Such a void festers and must be healed.

So I embark on this journey with more intention than pleasant visits with my daughters, sister and family of friends. After dreaming of whales so many nights, I will walk the high bluffs in search of spouts and flukes, perhaps blessed by an actual breach. The verdant deep forests will embrace me, the profound canopy of quiet like a warm blanket on a bitter Vermont night.

From the top of Neahkahnie, the sea sweeps on forever, and the Coastline marks a distinct transition between the rock solid and the ever-flowing.

Please share with your friends


Anonymous said...

Oregon is beautiful. I've been there several times, a couple by car, once by plane. Portland area is my favorite. This summer our family is motorhoming through Oregon and Washington state.

Very nice post Kip.

Anonymous said...

Enjoy your journey Kip. And what a lovely post.

Hayden Tompkins said...

I am SO glad you could redo this trip, Kip!

Laurie said...

I've never been to Oregon but would love to go. It will be interesting to record all of your feelings on this reunion trip.

You write this with a lovely paint brush Kip, painting images with your words. You've created a beautiful image in my mind's eye.

PS- love the beard but you haven't gotten older, you've gotten better!