July 17: Fort Bragg to Redwoods to Gold Beach, Oregon
Soundtrack: Lucinda Williams. local radio stations.
...they are not like any trees we know, they are ambassadors from another time. They have the mystery of ferns that disappeared a million years ago into the coal of the carboniferous era.
John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley in Search of America
In the shining morning with hanging flower baskets abloom on the covered wooden walkways, I went down to the swimming pavilion and left Laura sleeping for her health. I swam my usual 20 laps in the indoor pool and then woke her for the complimentary breakfast in the coffee shop. Before we could get back on Highway 1, we had to stop by a drugstore and get Laura’s prescription filled. By the time the pharmacist called us for the pickup we had a basketful of water bottles and cokes and insect repellents and flashlights and assorted other impulse items. Such is the peril of convenience.
As we left the parking lot and Laura took her antibiotics with one of the waters, we heard Lucinda Williams on the radio: “Real Live Bleeding Fingers.” She was Charlie’s baby sitter when he was six and several of his birthday parties were held in her backyard. I worked for an accounting firm downtown and didn’t get off until 5:00, so Charlie spent his afternoons with her, first at Greg Sowders’ tiny house and later in a duplex across Glendale Boulevard from us. She got a job in the same building as mine, Arco Towers, I got laid off, and we walked around Silver Lake together for a couple of years until she went away to Nashville to get famous. It was always an affirmation to hear her, a proof that success was possible.
The road north to the redwoods led past a dinosaur park like the one we used to go to in East Texas, so we stopped to investigate. It had the same wooded paths, the same hand-lettered signs, the same stiff dinosaurs modeled in concrete with piped-in roars, the same gift shop with dinosaur souvenirs that always delighted Charlie and Laura through years of trips to see the grandparents in Nacogdoches. Today, there was also the sound of sandblasting and polishing power tools and a young man had roped off the ankylosaurus to paint it in garish colors. The idea that dinosaurs could have bright patterned skins had developed since I learned about them in the ‘50’s; then they were expected to be gray or brown like elephants and rhinoceroses, maybe lizard green for variety. Now the vogue was for display and camouflage; who would know, really? After a pleasant walk over creeks and through the woods we headed out of his kitschy prehistoric world, inland to Redwoods National Park, where we stopped for a picnic under the big trees on the way.
This was the real thing: a tree you could drive through and rings to count, like in Sequoia National Park; but now the General Grant was off limits to automobile traffic. I drove though the Chandelier Redwood and Laura took a picture of the HHR halfway in, me waving through the sunroof. Now that’s tourism! I bought a knockoff Swiss army knife with Redwoods National Park printed on it and my first decal for the car window and we started back up Highway 1 for Oregon.
Laura’s godmother had given her a $50 gift certificate for Powell’s City of Books in Portland, so we headed there, but by 4 in the afternoon we were running out of steam and found an odd little motor court annexed to a trailer park right on Gold’s Beach. For $70 to $85 cash the born-again Christian proprietress gave us a choice of a vintage bungalow with shabby sofas and spotted rugs or a recently constructed kit house at the end of the gravel turnaround. We paid the extra and took the brand new cabin at the back of the court with windows facing the setting sun. We dined on salmon from a pouch, cheese, and crackers and finally opened the champagne for the sunset. Laura had never lived in a newly built house, with the smell of sawdust, fresh-painted sheet rock. and undusty corners. She was thrilled.
Breakers surged in pale rhythm and the moon came out to reflect on the water as the night drifted into our dreams.