Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Gone Coastal, Part Two - The Elderberry Inn

Anxiously, we drove on, westward, up and down mountains and into the delicate yet persistent snowstorms. Flashes of yellow just above ground level would get our hopes up. These could be daffodils, a sign of personal gardens and therefore, human life. But it was usually just skunk cabbage.

Here's where I need to make a botanical interjection for my East Coast readers, for whom skunk cabbage is Symplocarpus foetidus. Western skunk cabbage, Lysichiton americanus, is much like ours back East &mdash in the family Araceae, with a cluster of large leaves like a wild head of cabbage, and a skunk-like smell emanating from its inflorescence. Like Eastern skunk cabbage, Western skunk cabbage generates heat (I believe up to 70 degrees) warm enough to melt snow and keep the plant and its insect pollinators alive at the end of winter. But the spathe that shields the inflorescence of Eastern skunk cabbage is a streaky red and green hood; whereas the inflorescence of Western skunk cabbage peeks out from a spathe that is bright daffodil yellow. This explains its other common name &mdash swamp lantern.

It was these lanterns, not daffodils, that lit our way as the forest that walled in Highway 26 finally faded to a clearing. Scattered about the grass, some small houses and rusty parked cars began to appear, but no Chevrons or Arcos. When the Elderberry Inn came into view, with its neighboring convenience store and miniature gas pumps (announced by an equally tiny sign), I flew right past it.

"Wait! That was a gas station, wasn't it?"

As westbound 26 became once again a hallway through dense forest, an entrance to Highway 103 appeared like an arm extended to rescue someone who is about to fall down. We made a U-turn in the highway's welcoming hand.

The Elderberry Inn's gas prices were probably $0.50 higher per gallon than those in the city, yet it was with joy that I handed my credit card to the attendant.* Only a few feet away from my car sat two old men in folding chairs leaning against the convenience store. That is how close the building was to the pumps. If I wasn't careful opening my door, I might have knocked the men off of their chairs. Or I might have dented my car; the men were large. They had big, round faces peering from under trucker hats, and their flannel-draped frames were wide and solid.

"You know," said one man, "If you fill up you can get a free pop or coffee inside."

"Ooh!" I exclaimed. I can drink endless amounts of coffee on gray days. "Thanks!"

Julianna stayed with the car, and overheard one old man telling the other a crazy story involving guns. Which may appear transcribed here someday.

Inside the store, I scanned the scenery for unusual souvenirs. The same man who pumped my gas was at the counter. "Excuse me," I said. "I heard that you can get free coffee or pop if you fill up."

"Yeah, it's right over there. The coffee's by the pop machine in the corner."

"And where's the restroom?"

"By the pop machine.

"By the pop machine...over there?"


"Ok! Thanks!" I said, and skipped away to fill up a styrofoam cup.

It was not until I arrived back at the car that I realized what had just happened. While Julianna was mulling, in horror, over the old man's story involving guns, I was confronting, in horror, the fact that I had just referred to soda as "pop," more than once, without even thinking. POP. I SAID POP.

As we left the parking lot, we noticed that, across 26, a white car that resembled an old cop car sat on a hill. But, as we drove closer, we saw that the person behind the wheel was actually a monster mask attached to the driver's seat. Nearby, indicating the residence further up and partially obscured by the hill, was a large white sign with red lettering that announced: FREE KITTENS. Julianna pointed out that this was a permanent sign, a mini-billboard, always announcing free kittens. This seemed sinister to us.

The remainder of our drive to the coast was scenic and relatively uneventful. We occasionally yelled, "Why you do?" and "Where's God?" at the sky, but these inquiries were muffled by the snow and the thick clouds. The sky eventually became lachrymose and dumped weepy rain on us, the road, and the coast.

Trying to find public parking close to the beach took us into a maze of beach houses and dirt roads. Yes, dirt roads. This is another unique trait I've found about Oregon auto travel. Just as Oregonians recognize the distinction between highways and freeways, while referring to all such entities as "The (Insert Route Number Here)," such as "THE 26" and "THE 5" and not "US-26" or "I-5," and just as Oregonians don't pump their own gas, and just as Portland has one-way-width roads that are considered two-way, Oregon has "unimproved" roads. This is a fancy name for "dirt roads with giant rocks and potholes." In the country, this isn't so strange. But these roads are in cities, too! Are you paying attention, New Jersey? DIRT ROADS. IN CITIES.

And so, that is how we found ourselves in our next predicament. Unable to turn around at the end of a narrow street, we made a left onto what appeared to be a narrow hiking path that ran parallel to the ocean. This was, in fact, a road for driving. But its lack of "improvement" combined with the heavy rain had yielded a myriad of puddles. Faced with no choice but to force my car through a muddy pond that had appeared in the road, Julianna fretted over the prospect of us getting stuck in view of so many nice beach houses. "It's going to be the Donner Party!" she exclaimed again. I replied, "Aaaahh!" I suppose we would have been too embarrassed, had we gotten stuck, to merely walk out of the car.

But Stella the silver Sunfire made it through the road-pond. We were forced to park in a public lot several blocks from the beach itself. We covered ourselves with every layer of warm clothing and rainwear that we could find strewn about the car, and set out toward the beach. At last.

* By the way, NJ readers - Oregon is the OTHER only state that won't let you pump your own gas.

The Whole Story
Part One - The Road
Part Two - The Elderberry Inn
Part Two and a Half - The Coast
Part Three - I Paid Seventy-Five Cents for This Story


ellen said...

sounds like i have a choice between oregon and nj when i come back then, given that i would drive back to nj rather than pump my own gas when i lived in philly.

LS said...

That photo is gorgeous. It makes me think of Thailand for some reason, another place I haven't been too (like Oregon's coast I mean).

I never knew about the yellow skunk cabbage, good to know!

Keep up the writing, we are here and reading. :)

Sarah said...

Ellen - that comment cracked me up. You have no idea.

LS - Happy belated birthday! I can't believe I missed it on the day of. Thank you for the compliments :) I will have to take photos of the yellow skunk cabbage when it is blooming next year. It's quite a sight.