1979 “Threading the Needle”
A Yellow Bike Production
In 1979, I read George Orwell’s 1984, at the impressionable age of 21, it was the beginning of my contemporary paranoia. Conspiracy theories would soon follow. Now in 2011, I start writing the tale of an epic year in my journey, 1979 stands alone in the years of my life, now nearly fifty three of them, and yet it was greatly influenced by the twenty preceding years and has largely colored all of the years since. It was the year I truly cut all ties to a former life and struck out on a foolish yet brave, uncharted path. I left my home outside Milwaukee Wisconsin and headed west in a high school friends ’72 Oldsmobile. With the help of an “agent of monetary aid”, we struck out to make our fortune in the mountain forests of the Pacific Coast. Now thirty two plus years later, I live in the Pacific Northwest, Portland Oregon to be exact. I live in a modest, custom 1918 house on the Northeast side. I call it my “goat barn”. I pass myself off as a woodworker. I dream of rebuilding an old wooden sailboat and striking out for warmer, sunnier digs.
In 1979 I read the late great author and prankster Ken Kesey’s book, “Sometimes a Great Notion”, and found the opening history of the Stamper family as amusing then as I find it prophetic now. Henry Stamper’s father, while building the infamous Stamper house, packs up and walks away from his family, his life, and the saturated, man rotting wet of the Waconda Valley, after finding his box of nails rusted beyond use. So here I am, in Portland Oregon in the year 2011. The summer of 2010 was all of about three days long, never once breaking a hundred degrees and only reaching the nineties twice. So far this year, and it is now half way through May, summer and, indeed spring, seem like a distant mirage. It is truly these times that try a persons resolve. Depression sets in, suicide rates spike, vitamin D deficiency takes its toll, bees struggle for warmth and a fleeting shot at the flowers that rot in bloom, people ponder the cost of enclosing that outdoor veranda they built three years ago, the ground oozes like a saturated sponge, the chill sets in for the long haul, and among other maladies, people talk of that thing, the “crud”. “Oh, I’m a little out of sorts today”. “Zat so, whatcha got?” “Oh, you know, the crud.”
I was told, shortly after relocating to the beautiful, ever green Willamette Valley, that Willamette is derived from a Native American word meaning “little sickness”. Not, as one might hope, the valley of little sickness, but rather, the valley of many perpetual little sicknesses, the kind of elusive bug you’re not absolutely sure you’ve got but clings to your sole like a pair of wet socks. For many it is simply allergies no doubt, and as, like myself, Portland is comprised chiefly of transplants from other climates, allergies develop over the years. The first winter I spent in the valley, living in a small cottage on the Southeast side of Portland with my girlfriend and an old pal from Wisconsin, all three of us came down with some sort of “walking Pneumonia”, had to resort to antibiotics to get rid of it. But for the most part, little sicknesses take the day. Everybody brings their dietary traditions with them, and rather than adapting to the “climate”, suffer the consequences of a poor regional diet. The indigenous people’s diet consisted of fish and roots, and before commercial fisheries opened and started selling all the fish to the rest of the world, regional seafood was abundant and affordable, and a terrific supplement for the lacking vitamin D from the ever lacking presence of sunshine. And then there is “El Nino”, “El Nina”, and the lurking omnipresence of “Climate Change.”
Rambling I am, but how the mind wanders into the great gray mists of the “Pacific Wonderland”. Well, here I am in the Willamette Valley in 2011, dreaming of other shores and exotic, half naked women combing other beaches for the treasures only “other” beaches can offer. And I pass myself off as a woodworker.