So a flock of geese has migrated in to claim the pond right outside Mum’s home. They make entertaining neighbors – but when they come honking by and wake me up too early, I get some really cranky and uncharitable thoughts. On the upside, these avian invaders also bring to mind very happy memories of the migrations I made to the Oregon town of Ashland. And that puts all my foie gras-related thoughts to rest.
Why would a mess of geese make me think of Ashland? Well, for decades, the folks and I kept up a cherished yearly trek there for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and, among loads of delightful diversions, we looked forward to checking out the antics, ebbs and flows of a local population of ducks. Like us, the ducks seemed to love hanging out at a pond in Lithia Park in the shadow of the Festival’s Elizabethan Theatre. Although I shouldn’t rule out a shared passion for the arts, I expect this had to do with the generous amounts of bread people threw their way.
Anyway, keeping tabs on their strutting, fretting and feeding became part of the migration ritual that, after some years of refining, we looked forward to executing each summer to a T.
Since Dad figured we were better off three hours too soon than a minute too late for the start of our first play, Mum, Dad and I would take off bright and early (very early…) to head south from the folks’ house on the Oregon coast and then veer left at Reedsport to meander along the beautiful Umpqua River. Barring especially good elk spotting at the Dean Creek Elk Viewing Area (check out the web cam) just a few miles inland, our first stop of the day would be at Arlene’s Cafe in Elkton for coffee or cocoa and a visit to the “necessary” (more necessary on car trips for me than for most…).
Next we’d join the formation making its way south on Interstate 5, peeling off just long enough to enjoy a hearty lunch at historic Wolf Creek Inn. Travelers used to stop at this tavern and inn during stagecoach journeys through California and Oregon in the late 1800’s – and the inn is still open (except apparently through this year due to renovations) as a storied spot to dine and spend the night in rustic charm. It even played host to the likes of Jack London and Clark Gable back in the day!
Outside the inn is an interpretive display about the Applegate Trail – a southerly offshoot of the Oregon Trail used by Pacific Northwest pioneers. While we loved breathing in the historic atmosphere at this migratory hub, we were also pleased to inhale the berry crisp they served for dessert.
Then it was on to Ashland!
I bet there’s a recreational activity to suit any taste in Southern Oregon. Our Ashland excursions sometimes included a sightseeing detour to breathtaking Crater Lake. We also used to meet up with my brother and his family to splash around Howard Prairie Lake (some might prefer rafting on the Rogue for a bit more of a challenge). And while there are wine tasting options right in Ashland, we’d occasionally embark on our own local tour to do our sampling in amongst the actual vines. In town, it was a must to have at least one ramble through enchanting Lithia Park, window shop at the boutiques (well, Dad maybe not so much) and take every opportunity to dine al fresco.
But in the end, the play was the thing! And every activity was only a prelude to a delectable and dazzling night of theatre.
Planning would begin way back at the end of the prior year when we’d pore over the Festival brochure, trying to find the proper balance of comedies to tragedies, and old favorites to broadening new plays. (There’s more than Shakespeare on offer each season – but he’s the big draw for me!) We’d look forward to getting reacquainted with our favorite actors from year to year just like we would old friends. And every wonderfully hedonistic day of strolling, dining and theatre-going would conclude with a lively discussion of that night’s performance while devouring assorted chocolates picked up earlier in the day in case the play ran longer than the sweet shops stayed open. Particularly where chocolate was concerned, the ritual left nothing to chance.
Even though our visit was arranged right down to the purchasing of candy, so often there’d wind up being plays and performances that surprised us in ways we just couldn’t expect – and that was always part of the fun.
We even once got a surprise from those Lithia Park ducks when, after a number of years, we shifted our migration from July to September. Long before the natural light had faded on those earlier summer evenings, we’d already have plumped our seat cushions in the Elizabethan Theatre and been listening to the welcoming trumpet sound while viewing the traditional hoisting of the flag above the stage. But this time in early fall, we were still lazing out by the pond and communing with the ducks as the sun began to disappear.
That’s when we caught our ducks – one and two at a time – hefting their bread-gorged bodies from the water quite close over our heads and winging off northish until eventually the pond was completely duck-less. After decades of visiting, we were tickled to discover that they all took off at dusk as if they’d just gotten a memo to do their roosting elsewhere. I’m not sure why ducks do that. I guess it’s neither rhyme nor reason but instinct. Either way, just when we thought we’d seen everything in Ashland, Nature threw us a curve ball with feathers!
Huh. The focus of this post seems to be doing some migrating of its own. We’ve got birds. We’ve got Ashland. We’ve got more birds. We’ve even got a few quotes (or near ones) here and there from The Bard, himself. Probably I should have written this more as the crow flies. Then again, perhaps the better part of ballad is digression…
Ah well. The thing is, all these themes are wrapped up in my memories of Ashland – and I want to record ’em. I want to record ’em all.
I imagine most of us follow a series of migratory patterns over the course of our lives – everything from job commutes to summer vacations to holiday visits with family. I’ve described my Ashland migrations in the past tense because, sadly, my own patterns have changed and I’ve not been there to attend a play in quite a while. Dad was such a huge part of these outings – and he adored Ashland so much too that he chose it as the family rendezvous spot for his 80th birthday. But since he passed away a few years after that lovely celebration, the instinct to return just hasn’t been there for me.
Still, I like to think fortune will smile once more and it’ll feel right to go back one day – maybe to commence some new rituals. In the meantime, my thoughts make many a fond migration back to Ashland. And on these flights of fancy, I savor the memory of every single part of my visits. Family, food, fowl. Trails, traditions, treats. Prologues, plays, postludes. And, of course, chocolate – mustn’t forget the chocolate!
Would I trade away a single moment of those precious times?
Ha! Not for the wide world.