The Halloween holiday, Samhain, dates back centuries to Celtic festivals, and many cultures pay respect to the line between living and dead. In contrast, zombies and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are only about fifty years old, while candy corn is a little older, dating back to the 1880s. All of them reflect a fascination with blurred lines, with candy and people that cross over, which explains why candy corn, Reese’s, and zombies are so popular and will likely remain so for decades.
Love It or Hate It
A recent Monmouth University poll suggested a sharp divide in American attitudes about Halloween. 45% said that the October festivities were among their favorite holidays. Another 53% don’t particularly like it at all. That kind of polarization isn’t surprising in today’s divided populace, although who doesn’t like dressing up in costumes or eating candy? (Answer: lotsa people).
Know what else divides the populace? Orange. Not the orange head you might be thinking of, but the orange and yellow corn syrup and earwax combination known as candy corn. As Lewis Black and others have pointed out, it’s neither candy nor corn.
The midmorning autumn sun was lasing into the windows of the Fun Car as we loaded it one last time. It gave me an instant headache. Wasn’t it raining just yesterday? Didn’t we spend all of Oregon trying to choose between windbreaker slicker, Danish raincoat, and umbrella?
Over the Green Pass into Chaparral
We had come over the Siskiyou Pass the previous night, south from Ashland in a setting sun that kept trying to peek through a cloud bank. The Pass is the highest point on I-5 at 4310 feet, and my ears popped coming down as KK, the better driver, carefully navigated among cautious truckers manually downshifting and deathwish sports cars.
I was treated to a stunning view of rolling brown hills of the Cascade-Siskiyou Forest to the east and Klamath to the west, polka-dotted with pumpkin-colored tamaracks. Just after the California border, the trees dropped away into what looks like desert, although this is chaparral, high desert. Central California is full of rolling hills with drought-reistant thickets like manazanitas. It just looks brown compared with the green we’ve left, but this is its own kind of tough and hardy place, as much as the climate and people we’ve left in the north.
Author’s Note: No Shakespeares were viewed on this trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, even though Shakespeare is one of my superpowers. Hash tag Still Not About Shakespeare. See post: Queasy Endings if you want to read mostly about The Bard.
The Melting Pot of Theater
The giveaway about what kind of season was ahead at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) is in the rainbow display of show posters on the wall from the parking lot to the box office. The plays reflect the span of multicultural America in subject matter–from Cambodian Rock Band to Alice in Wonderland–and theater tradition–from All’s Well that Ends Well to the world premiere Mother Road. There was cross-gender casting in As You Like It and a bilingual version of one of Shakespeare’s oldest farces, La Comedia of Errors. Some patrons didn’t like it, although arguably there was something for everybody in a schedule that included Hairspray and Macbeth.
We have been coming up to Ashland for a few years now, more frequently as our schedules have turned more flexible, and the breadth in casting has also broadened noticeably. As with many other aspects of American life, theater had attracted a certain type of actor and director, emphasizing a certain approach to how plays should be put on, which also meant the majority of the audience was a certain type of person. OSF started to break that mold a few decades ago, mostly due to outgoing Artistic Director Bill Rauch’s vision. In his final year in Oregon, Rauch pulled out all the stops to produce a season of forward-thinking plays, including pairing casts between plays with an explicit goal:
…[to] create a remarkable dialogue about cultural connectivity in our gorgeously diverse nation…
Artistic Director Bill Rauch in the Introduction to the OSF Playbill
Technically, this part of our Left Coast Mosey is about traveling in Oregon from Portland to Ashland, but it sounded better to use two words starting with an S. I guess I could have called it Salem to Shakespeare, since Salem was our first stop, but the drive started at the Columbia River. As the skies cleared for a brief spot in the morning, we were finally able to take that river picture from our Portland-area hotel before setting out on this five-hour drive.
Also, in the interests of fair disclosure, Shakespeare represents the site of our destination, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, at the southern border of the state, but there will be no other mention of Shakespeare in this post. That may frustrate some, but will probably relieve many. Hash tag Not About Shakespeare.
Drive Time History
We have driven before from Seattle to northern California six or seven times, usually taking three days: Seattle to Portland, Portland to Medford, Medford to the Bay Area. It’s a twelve-hour drive in total, so it could be done in two long days, with a stop somewhere near Corvallis in Oregon, though that’s the perhaps the least interesting place to stop. Or the most picturesque, since it’s slightly more remote.
In the early nineteenth century, the Oregon Trail was forged by so many pioneers, who labored for six months to schlepp their household from Kansas or the Missouri River, over the Rockies, then north through the Cascades or south through the Sierras. Most of the historical records talk about moving from the east to the western horizon, while few discuss the north-south corridor.
Still, that secondary route trailing north/south must have sprung up. Thousands of people were expanding into the Oregon Territory, from the “Spanish” lands of California, all the way to Alaska (the 54th parallel) in the 1820-1840s. Once gold was found at Sutter’s Mill in the California Valley, which gave birth to Sacramento where I spent my formative years, millions of “forty-niners” were drawn from around the world. Apparently, many even made their way cross-ocean, going through Panama or even around Cape Horn. It must have taken at least a few weeks to walk and lead a team of horses with the furniture and seeds if you were migrating down from Puget Sound. I-5 today makes that much easier.
As a mirror image to the previous day’s travels around Mount Rainier and continuing our trip down the Cascade mountain range, we spent much of the day not seeing Mount Hood. However, we did soak up quite a bit of history looking at the Columbia Gorge, wandering around Timberline Lodge, perusing what might be the largest bookstore in the world, and listening to a grumpy old rock star.
Columbia, the Gem of the West Coast
The Columbia gorge that runs like a sine wave along the border between southern Washington and northern Oregon is not to be missed if you come to the west coast. On a good day, you can look down the gorge to see bridge after bridge and even on a misery day like this one, the waterfalls gushing by the roadways were that much more impressive.
The gorge has been ruler to people for 13,000 years, with artifacts found from the early pioneers who crossed over the Bering Straits. Lewis and Clark traveled down the Columbia to get to the Pacific, so there are a number of historical markers. My friend Barb, who used to guide people down the Lewis and Clark Trail, would probably wish that we had stopped at all of them, but we voted to let her take us someday instead.