Georgia and Tom on the Oregon Coast


rainforest

“You get a line and I’ll get a pole, honey, honey. You get a line and I’ll get a pole, babe. You get a line, I’ll get a pole, we’ll go down to the fishing hole, honey oh babe oh mine.”

Tom couldn’t help singing. Tom hitched a ride with his happy thumb on his way to Anchorage Alaska, where he intended to build an igloo and marry himself an Inuit girl, skin seal and harvest amethyst in the frozen ice caves of Siberia. Tom was a born entrepreneur, but a southerner too, at heart, and it got too dang cold for him just about midway up the coast of Oregon and he never made it to Alaska. Stopped in Gorgeous, Oregon, in the deep wet forest that runs along the west coast. For a year or two he lived on blackberries and fish and his hair grew long and shaggy. He slept too hard to snore, and was too unreconstructed to think about farming, or storing, or hardship.

Oregon is a fine plentiful place for people who don’t mind a little rain, and Tom got comfortable, although not soft. One summer he gave forestry a try, strip cutting a corner of the Kalmiopsis near Biscuit, but he found he could not bear to cut the tree people. There is more bleeding in a tree than he’d ever felt in a salmon, though he could not explain that to himself or the woman who eventually convinced him to put his shoes back on and get out of the tree. He became a spokesman for trees, a miner of bees, he cultivated honey, and made a little money. Then he planted gobble sum and toad willow and buddha fingers and poultry rhymes. He opened a nursery on the edge of a small state road where people who were not in quite such a hurry might stop and talk and buy a cold drink, a Yoohoo or a Sierra Mist. He sold plants and named them himself, as much the inventor of his own roadside stand as any other stepaway of that particular time and place.

The Oregon coast is green, wet, mossy, and cool. At one time (at the time of this story, in fact), there were not many signs or arrows pointing to particular destinations, and it was not unusual for strangers to lose their way. They might find themselves slipping from a long low road into an awning of dripping willows, lining the drive where Tom lived with his trees and the woman he eventually married. Her name was Berry, who stings the fingers and stains the mouth, but she was sweet on Tom and he on her, and this worked, out there in the small stone house where they lived together, with their bees, their honeysuckle, their ginger snap trail blossoms and their two-fingered lobulus marionettes. The garden was fresh and they grew herbs, and kept a few chickens, and wrote some books about living in Alaska and building igloos out of ice and amethyst, and swimming with polar bears in the melting snow waters of high summer in the far north.

Georgia liked to make honey syrup from the berries as they ripened. She made a blackberry syrup, raspberry, blueberry, mulberry and rye berry. Each one had a distinctive flavor and a color that was either natural to the berry or boiled in a colored honey blend to brighten them up. Tom smelled each syrup as it mixed, and measured and tested each flavor with nose and tongue and fingertip, looking for the combination that lifted the spirits and let them fly away out into the cool wet air, where smoke from wood fireplaces hung and ruffled in the cool breeze as the sun went down. The fireplace smell was ashes and fruit, and Georgia and Tom’s three big labs liked to lay there, slightly damp but warm throughout, to let the heat seep into their ribs when the nights were long. Georgia gave birth one time, then two, and Tom hung fishing nets along the fence on the deck where they sat while Georgia recovered. Georgia began to identify each of her two births from one another by markings, by sound, by temperament. She did this surreptitiously, quietly, on little padded cotton feet that did not track much into the house. Eventually, she considered naming the children, but by then they were up and ready to name themselves.

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