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To: Friends and Family

Subject: Unincorporated

For those who wanted to hear more about Netarts:

Netarts is an unincorporated town with small neighborhoods scattered on either side of the highway. The town covers about 2.6 square miles at an elevation of 69 feet above sea level, although my house couldn’t be more than 30. There are370 households and 750 people, many of whom aren’t full-time residents. 

In this same spirit of egalitarianism, the beaches in Oregon belong to everyone. 
My meanderings revealed a microcosm of egalitarianism with homes that included trailers at the Big Spruce trailer park, faded beach cottages like mine, a variety of upscale designer dwellings, and everything in between. For example, at the corner of Holly Heights Avenue and the main road is a ramshackle and overgrown turquoise house. Yesterday, my heart jumped at the sight of man in flannel sitting under the sagging porch roof with an arrow through his head. A closer look revealed it was a mannequin. Today, the fellow is sporting a green wool scarf and rakish fedora. At the top of Holly Heights hill is a row of upscale condos with oversized garages, a southerly view over Netarts Bay at the Pacific, and a beautifully manicured commons area. 

Most of the towns I passed through on my way up the coast were tourist meccas. But even with its spectacular view of the sea and the pristine beaches, Netarts remains just a quiet town with ordinary people doing quiet ordinary things. 

The air is so pure that when I walked past the deli this morning, the exhaust from an idling car made me nauseous. When a man all spiffy and fashionable in layers of fleece and Gortex came out of the deli juggling coffee and a muffin while speaking urgently on his cell phone and motioning to the woman in the car to open his door, I felt jarred by an alien energy. Instead of becoming more reflective, as planned, I feel myself, how shall I say it?—fading. Like an old beach house, beloved by several generations who always keep swearing they should come here more often.

This morning I was trying to decide if I’m going inward or dropping out. No conclusion. For now, there is only this place.

Simple as life here is, though, the place is not without irony—take, for instance, Happy Camp, a beach site for tourists that is also an officially designated tsunami hazard area. Barring the arrival of a hundred foot wave, there’s no way to convey the peace here where everything floats on the sound of the sea. 

Following my walking tour, I stopped at the post office inside the Netarts Grocery for some stamps and to inquire about how I might receive mail since there’s no delivery on my street. The post office is a small beige room, more like a wide hallway, just past the ice cream freezers lining the front of the grocery. At the end of the wall of post office boxes is a Dutch door with a counter extending outward from the lower half. Lounging on the counter was Lugs, the resident cat, you will recall as President of the Netarts Chamber of Commerce. 

Lugs in front of the Sea Lion Motel

15—Through the Rainbow

To: Friends and Family
Subject: Through the Rainbow

Greetings All,

So many wanted me to let them know how the trip went that I decided to keep a log. Because of the cats, I’m limiting the driving time each day, and we’re taking a longer route through California and up 101 to avoid snow. 

Dec. 25: Modesto, CA
We left Vegas as planned this morning. The cats slept all the way to Motel 6 and find our room way more interesting than I do. As I walked around the neighborhood, people were coming and going with shopping bags full of gifts and food. They appeared more busy than merry.

How many gifts will end up returned or at Goodwill? Peace on Earth and Goodwill to shoppers. Why not simplify the season—we each buy something we really want or need and pretend it’s from everyone who loves us. What did Joseph and Mary do with the sheep, gold, frankincense and myrrh. Gold—good choice. But sheep? And all that perfumy stuff? I wonder if Jesus had allergies. 

While enjoying a dinner of reconstituted vegetable soup, fruit, and bread, I watched the Christmas choirs on TV. I felt relieved to be free of the holiday busyness. Free but alone, like a lingering soul.


Dec. 26: Eureka, CA
As we cut across California before heading north to Eureka, our drive through forested hills and valleys was quiet and uneventful. Except for the rainbow. 

14—One Week Before Departure

December 18, 1998.
Anxiety crawled over me like ants. 

“I have no idea what I’m doing,” I told my therapist.
“Just go,” she said. “Have fun.” 
“Fun?” I snapped. “Fun is for people who can afford vacations. I thought I was supposed to be on some big damned quest.”
This woman who was more annoying to me than anyone I knew stopped scribbling notes, set aside her big yellow tablet, and looked me square in the eyes.
“Just what is it that you want from life?” she asked. 
“Magic,” I quipped sardonically.
“Magicians are merely masters of illusion,” she observed then looked at her watch.
Time was up.
As I was leaving, she patted me on the shoulder.
I wanted to slap her.


Later over lunch, my friends kept referring to my trip as “the grand adventure.” Easy for them to say. I mean, on Christmas Day, there they would be—safe and merry in their lovely homes, snugged up with their significant others, surrounded by family, and secure in their jobs. And there I’d be—a small, fifty-six-year-old woman with no prospects setting forth with two disgruntled cats for a month alone in a dank cabin by an inhospitable sea. Why hadn’t anyone even tried to stop me? 
This wasn’t a quest. It was an act of precarious and escalating delusion.


Back at my apartment, I phoned my father in Pennsylvania. Dad had always despised and even feared travel. What’s more, he’d started warning me as early as first grade that my “nonconformist notions” put me on a “collision course.” Clearly, he’d been right. 

Surely Dad would support my decision to accept reality and finally do the sensible thing. 

13—Against All Experts

I sat back on the sofa and watched from behind a book. Curiosity would soon draw the cats out of hiding. Then once they discovered the new carriers with treats, catnip-scented towels, and toys that jingled and bobbled, getting them inside would be a cinch.  
Half an hour later, cd approached, interested but mistrustful. She sniffed briefly at the $91.72 worth of gifts selected for the finest in feline travel comfort, returned to the top of the cat condo, and for the next two days skirted the carriers as if they were traps. MITTS didn’t even bother to sniff but rather dashed past them to the kitchen for a quick bite of food then bolted back into hiding.
Analyzing the problem, I decided that since none of us was much for casual play anyway, we should just skip ahead to Dr. Sam’s reassuring but confident stage. I sat on the floor between the carriers and, to my amazement, was immediately joined by both cats, at which point, my problem turned into a dilemma. This dilemma was the cats themselves. 

12—Old Cats...New Tricks

Within minutes of entering Safeway, I’d filled my cart with all the organic tea, beans, soy milk, whole-grain pasta, tomato sauce, brown rice, oats, buckwheat, quinoa, and other staples not likely to be found in a village with a grocery store whose three-foot by four-foot produce cooler lay in the back corner behind the wine, cracker, candy, and cupcake sections. With provisions enough to hold a vegetarian special-forces unit for a month, I rolled my cart into the first-aid and hardware sections where I selected items for coping with every physical or automotive crisis not requiring a surgeon or mechanic. I then picked out a set of storage containers to keep my purchases orderly and dry during transit. Secure in my preparedness, I felt my confidence mounting—until I stepped into the pet-supply section.

Both my cats were such confirmed homebodies that driving a mile to the vet took us to the brink of meltdown. After adding a blue travel-sized litter box to my cart, I began to imagine what 1,300 miles in a car and two over-nights in a motel would do to them. 



But then as fate would have it, words of hope sprang out at me from the magazine rack in the checkout line: