Between a Rock and a Park Place


I was talking with a friend a few months ago who told me that there was absolutely nothing of interest to do in her hometown of Cocoa, Florida. It was so bad she claimed, that she rarely ventured out of her home into a world beyond television. I told her to hold on a moment, then returned with a list of things within a few miles of her place that would interest me if I lived in the area including an ancient mammoth museum and a high school play. These ideas came courtesy of Google of course, but with a little grit, other charming pieces of culture can be found by the curious mind.

Take my walk in the park this morning. Walking my dog for a little bit of fresh air, I found a small painted stone nestled against an old growth Douglas Fir tree near the sidewalk. I took the above photo before venturing into a nearby shop to ask if they had any idea as to its origin. Turns out, a local artist took up the habit of painting stones a few years ago before hiding them in the park to be discovered by children. Collecting the art has become an almost Easter Egg like hunt ambition for toddlers who delightedly line them up against their windows after snatching them from their hiding places.

Honestly, I think ridding myself of cable two years ago was one of the most pivotal choices of my life. You lose a certain level of numbness and free up energy to see life with more detail.


Country Wisdom


Since moving back into the heart of Oregon farm country after a decades absence, I’ve become ever more curious about the cultural islands out there that have survived the onslaught of new inhabitants from California. Driving the backroads of Dayton looking for interesting photo subjects, I was heading for Salem when I spun the car around to go inside Bob’s Grande Island Country Store. There I found this group (pictured) of farmers indulging in conversation over a morning coffee. I’ve learned to look very inconspicuous in such situations, and claimed a table nearby to listen in. The topic of the day: California fires. The group solution? Get a million hungry goats and release them onto the ridges of the mountains above Los Angeles and let them eat the undergrowth to the ground thereby strangling the fires from any further fuel. Oh country wisdom, how I love you so.

The Cathedral Challenge

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You can find a full 18 hole frisbee golf course at Mission Creek State Park just outside Salem on the banks of the Willamette River in Oregon. The 12th hole, the famed “Cathedral,” is pictured above. And you thought you needed a steady hand to cut the Thanksgiving turkey! If you’ve never tried frisbee golf, you can buy discs at just about any sporting goods store. You’ll need a driver and a putter!

Pinata Mixer


Walking my dog in the park this weekend I noticed a sizable birthday party going on inside the covered area at the far end of the trees. Innately curious, I drifted toward the activity to find the scene pictured above; a large group of children circled around a dangling pinata as their parents sat in lawn chairs at the far end sipping drinks. Each child took their turn swinging a large, plastic bat while blindfolded, aiming at the colorful pinata being pulled up and down by an adult. They were given two hits each until the pinata finally burst into a shower of candy that spun across the concrete after hitting near their feet. They squealed with delight, hustled to get their share of the sweets, then politely stood back to make sure everyone got something.

Nothing particularly unusual here, but as I grew closer, I noticed the cultural dynamic was half Hispanic (more than likely Mexican migrant workers known to the area) and half Western European, or white. None of the children appeared to divide themselves along these lines as they were much more interested in laughing and playing than judging. It reminded me of a cartoon I saw years ago showing two fathers pushing baby carriages past each other (one black, one white) in a park while looking down thinking swear words and racial slurs. Meanwhile, the two infants shared a thought bubble: “Hey! Another kid!”

Seems like there are a few things we can learn from our children.

Not so fast Bill Murray!


Enjoying a lunch with my best friend yesterday afternoon, I learned that none other than Bill Murray of SNL fame, stated in a recent interview that all he wanted to do now was, “move to McMinnville, Oregon and live out his life.”

Being my hometown, I know the appeal of a rural, medium-sized town to wealthy Californians. Selling their Orange County house for $3.5 million, the first thing they insist on doing is building a mansion of comparable size for $700,000 on former farmland. Interspersed among the remaining corn and wheat fields, they have also brought a new flush of gourmet restaurants to our downtown the past decade. From an L.A. perspective, the lines and traffic jams are minimal, and prices for gourmet meals appear solidly mid-range.  With such appeal, Goldie Hawn bought a place on the edge of town among the wavy hilled vineyards while Robin Williams picked the area to secretly attend rehab for his drug addiction. The only problem? As California flees traffic jams and overstuffed restaurants, it drags along urban social values that change the positive dynamic of a healthy small town community. Populating a place we loved on vacation creates exactly the opposite effect of what attracted us there in the first place.

When I was an elementary student in McMinnville, I walked six blocks to school each morning without worry. We played baseball and football in the street, rode bicycles across town, and felt comfortable trick or treating at every house in town. It was a good life, and I can’t blame folks who visit wanting to have their piece of that life in retirement. But recognize the impact your actions will have on others if you truly wish to live justly. Moving blindly into a community because you can, doesn’t always represent a higher state of good.

I recently saw a first in my hometown; a car placed on a boulder with windows bashed in and partially stripped (pictured). Down the street, a man lay passed out in the shrubs with an empty bottle surrounded by all of his possessions. Nearby, on the farm I worked on as a teen, presently converted to a nature preserve, I’ve witnessed gang members hiding bats in the deep fall leaves to prepare for a territorial battle yards from an elk and beaver den.

The downtown, so open and friendly in the past, now holds exclusive uber rich transplants posing as dressed down middle class residents. They are only betrayed by the $500 patent leather shoes they still insist on wearing. Apparently, it is much harder to abandon status symbols of wealth than they think. The gap in haves versus have nots has never been wider. McMinnville, so egalitarian in the 1960’s, now is lucky have a regular family living in one of the lovely original Victorian era homes. They have become either law offices, realtor offices, or celebrity homes. A late night trip to Walmart has become hazardous. Out of the darkness, people emerge from the crammed parking lot looking like a casting call for the Walking Dead. Palid, unshaven meth heads inhabit dark corners, while Bible thumpers desperately search for the unwary to fill the pews of their declining ranks. Does this represent the good life?

So Bill, before you enjoy the benefits of sipping wine amidst the beautiful views of Willamette Valley vineyards along with a mudbath and sauna at the spa, I suggest you take a closer look at living in Disneyland while the majority can only afford to look between the black bars. To maintain solid, livable communities we must start thinking how our actions impact everyone. To create an exclusive culture that only allows access by only a fraction of the population is unjust and wrong. Someday a counter reaction will take place, penetrating even the highest gated community.

Commando Shopping


It’s clearly a luxury in our American life to be able to bulk up on foods at COSTCO once or twice a month thereby avoiding multiple weekly visits to the market. Trouble is, I’m an outside person, and if I’m not on my game arriving at COSTCO early enough in sneakers, I can lose a good part of my Saturday getting past the tasting stations or all that Halloween door crap so many seem to obsess over. Therefore, my need for “Commando Shopping.” This is a technique I’ve perfected avoiding popular sections by hitting my destination points with pinpoint precision. ¬†Think airborne troops capturing bagels, turkey burgers, and cabbage instead of a bridge. To do this, one must not allow tempting power washers or giant teddy bears to bulk up your cart. Focus, focus, focus. Once you give in to that cheesy enchilada tasting cup you are doomed . Hit your basic needs and head for the checkout.

Pet Peeve # 9

When we travel, we all are familiar with the small talk required with the random people placed next to us as we sort out our bags and find seat belts; but there is a line. Sure, I’ve met people I’ve shared some amazing conversations with, but we all know that one guy who starts talking as soon as his butt touches the seat and talks through movies and snacks alike. My last flight, this guy (pictured), talked for six hours at the young woman seated next to him choosing to discuss his suit choices and hobbies before serving up the main course: his church. She was treated to the source of his empathy and all the details of the upcoming weekend picnic in blathering detail. Not cool.


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