Blown Back to Ashland: the Windiad no. 4


The Wind Bag
Aeolus is the wind god, or he controlled the winds anyway. In exchange for stories from Odysseus, Aeolus gave a bag of winds that would help Odysseus find his way back home. Odysseus told mostly stories from the Trojan War, with other tales of fishing trips and crazy relatives in between to pad the mostly uneventful decade of half-heartedly laying siege to Troy. Aeolus wasn’t really into the stories, but he liked to listen to people talk while he cracked open a beer.

The bag of winds was really big, made of blue silk and lined with the feathers of doves and peacocks. Odysseus’s men thought it was treasure that he didn’t want to share, so they opened the bag to see what was inside. The winds were released and the ships got blown back to where they started.

One place I find myself blown back to often is Ashland.

Ashland and I go back a long way. Back when I was in high school I first visited my buddy Kevin who had just moved here. For a Southern California boy, my image of Oregon was of log cabins, rednecks, bears and forests. They all certainly exist here, but I also found a town full of artists, musicians, dancers, hippies, America’s largest Shakespeare festival, fresh air, rivers, and a sky full of stars I’d never seen through the haze of Los Angeles.

It was a revelatory vacation. I got to see an alternative to the materialistic, status-loving, car culture of Hollywood. And I questioned everything about the superficial life that I felt I’d been living. Once I returned to LA, I went through more than a decade of navel-gazing, studying religions and philosophies, to try to break through the veil of the illusory, physical world. I read a lot. And pondered over Sartre, Nietzsche, Chuang Tzu, Krishnamurti, Alan Watts, bell hooks and many others.

That was a heavy time. Since them I’ve discovered the meaning of life and I’d like to share it with you. Just send $49.99 to: Universal Secrets, P.O. Box 13, Lagos, Nigeria.

lithia fountain detail

If you really want answers to the big questions you want to consult with my long-time friend, Ramana.

We met with her and her husband, Stacy, at a Japanese restaurant called Kobe. Surprisingly the sushi was outstanding, but very California. The delicious rolls had stereotypical names like, Red Dragon and Kamikaze, with sushi ingredients never seen in Japan like avocado and sun-dried tomatoes. When we asked for more shoyu, the waitress had a perplexed look on her face until we said, soy sauce.

Ramana is a dedicated Soto Zen practitioner. She’s the seer in my life story. She’s a combination of spacey mystic and grounded explorer. At various times in her life, she went to a prestigious art school to study film, wandered in the desert as an apprentice shaman, collected lovers in Europe like Starbuck’s city mugs, lived in Buddhist monasteries, wrote erotica.

During one of the many times I’ve crashed at her place, she kept parakeets and lived in a charming house with a sloping floor. Another time she lived in an even cuter house behind the bakery where she worked. Now as a mother and wife, she still has a priestly vibe to her, and her house is like a redwood cathedral.

In short, she’s led a fascinating life. And she’s filled my bag of winds many times over.

Bloomsbury Café
Cafes are the best places to find meaning. One café I get blown back to often, and so I guess is my favorite Ashland café, is Bloomsbury Café. It’s upstairs from the Bloomsbury bookstore. They have a large shady outdoor seating area, a cozy interior with lots of stuffed chairs. Here, I suggest reading children’s books with dark themes, after meeting a friend you haven’t seen since you were a teenager.

sycamore bark

Lithia Park
Nature is also a good place to seek answers. One of my favorite parks in the world is Lithia Park. It’s enormous, stretching for miles it seems, along Lithia Creek, which has natural lithium. Lithium water tastes like rotten eggs and the element is used to treat schizophrenia. So it’s an excellent place to stop hearing the voices in your head. The park has a pond with a pair of swans (though I didn’t see them this time around), a sycamore tree grove, a crumbling white fountain, an amphitheatre, tennis courts, roses, deer, and at one time had monkeys.

Yup, I love Ashland.