Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Oregon Coast: I Wish You All Could Be Here!

If my wishes came true, all of you would be here to enjoy the Oregon Coast. We’d walk the wide, nearly deserted beaches. We’d enjoy the scenery of the rugged coast. We’d watch waves crash over starfish and wonder why they never fall off. We hear the crunch of shells under our step. And, we'd see palm tree shaped seaweed sway in the wind. I wish you all could be here with Ed and me to take in the beauty of the Oregon Coast.

Heceta Head Lighthouse: If I Were the Lighthouse Keeper

“We're sorry, but we couldn't find any jobs that match your criteria.

For better results, try broadening your search.”

This message confirmed what I already suspected when I typed the key words “lighthouse keeper” into the job search engine The need for lightkeepers ended long ago. In the 1930s, electricity reduced the need for lightkeepers. And, automation in the 1960s eliminated the need completely. Still I dreamed about the life of being a lightkeeper at Heceta Head Lighthouse.

If I had the opportunity to be a lightkeeper, I would have enjoyed my work.

I would have tended to the clockworks that rotated the lighthouse lamp with strength and discipline to hand crank the 200-pound weight of this clockwork every four hours while on my shift.

I would have kept the wick fueled with kerosene so the lamp burned bright and remained visible some 21 miles out from shore.

I would have carefully polished the 392-prism British-made Fresnel lens to remove all the soot.

I would have looked forward to receiving the portable wooden bookcase, a kind of Book Mobile of the 1800s, delivered by a visiting ship traveling along the coast.

When my shift was done, I would have loved to sit in the isolated house close to the lighthouse enjoying the view of the rugged coast from my curtained window.

The volunteer docents who led the interpretive tours of the Heceta Head Lighthouse and Keeper’s House did much to feed my imagination and my desire to be a lightkeeper. I suppose the closest I will come to being a lightkeeper is to sit upon the Adirondack chairs of the front porch at the Heceta Lighthouse Bed & Breakfast, the lightkeeper’s former home.

August 29, 2008

Heceta Lighthouse Bed & Breakfast

Heceta Head Lighthouse

Off US 101, 13 miles north of Florence, Oregon

Is That Clown Really Ed?

“There’s two Poppa D’s!” shouted the children. “Look, there are two!” They yelled, jumped excitedly, and pointed at the two clowns emerging from the RV.

Poppa D shouted back, “Give me five!”He hand-slapped a few kids, children of the circus performers. These kids knew Poppa D. They traveled together town-to-town in a caravan of RVs during the circus season. They’d never seen the other clown. Their enthusiastic greeting prompted this second clown to show a toothy wide smile and bellow a hearty laugh. This second clown was new. In fact, he had never appeared as a clown, not ever. This was his debut, his first and only night as a clown.

“We need to give you a name,” Poppa D said under his breath to the clown.

“How about Poppa Ed?” replied the second clown.

“Hee, Hee!” Poppa D gave his loud clown laugh and announced, “This is Pappa Ed. Ta’dah!” He opened his arms with a showman’s flare.

“Ta’dah!” Poppa Ed mimicked stepping forward and opening his arms wide. His hat teetered.

Less than a couple of hours ago, Ed was, well, just Ed…my husband, the guy taking photographs as I wandered under the circus big top with Poppa D.

Poppa D, our escort and circus PR man, saw more in Ed. “There’s one way to get a real feel for the circus,” he commented after Ed snapped another digital photo. “How about appearing as a guest clown?” he asked Ed.

Ed’s first protested, “Oh, no! Not me!” Then, showing a bit if interest, his protest turned to a question: “What do I have to do?” Then, he agreed, “Okay!”

Ed watched the 4:30 PM circus performance with special interest in the clowns. He studied their antics and I knew he was making mental notes, not reconsidering his commitment. At 6 PM, he entered Poppa D’s RV. When he emerged thirty minutes later, he was Poppa Ed the clown.

I sent a photo of Ed to our daughter from my cell phone with the message: “Dad’s joined the circus.”. “That’s not really Dad, is it?” Suzie texted. “Yep!” I replied. “Has he lost his mind?” she texted again. “Nope, he’s just gonna have some fun.”

Ed did have some fun. He entertained kids and their parents on the circus midway with a color changing silk scarf borrowed from the pro Poppa D. Kids blew a puff of air on the scarf in Ed’s fist and watched it change from red and blue to yellow. The trick amazed the kids. Ed looked amazed too each time it worked. He had less luck with a small rodeo lasso. He never did master getting the rope to rotate in a circle. It wiggled limply which brought more of a laugh than if he had been successful. He gave up on the lasso and just hung the rope across his shoulder.

Ed posed for a photo with a tiny blond toddler. He gave high fives to the older kids. He waved to the shy. And, let the bolder children give him a hug.

Leading up to show time, he assured some of the other circus performers that he wasn’t really after their job.

He mimed and smiled. He shook hands with the circus goers headed to their seats. His exaggerated greetings knocked his hat loose and sent it tumbling to the ground more than once. He’d plop the hat back on top of his yellow wig and keep on smiling.
He and Poppa D took the center ring under the big top and roused the crowd in a shouting match. When the right side was declared a winner, Ed grabbed a rope suspended from the tent ceiling. He swung like Tarzan to once again please the crowd. With the audience warmed-up for the show, Ed made one more appearance before the circus crowd.

“Duck your head,” cautioned the trainer as he led the elephant through the opening of the big top. We both scrunched down.

“Ladies and gentleman! May I introduce to you our guest clown for the evening… Ed Lonsbary of Toronto Canada and his wife Patty,” the ring master stretched his words.

Poppa Ed and I waved to crowd from atop the lumbering elephant. Cameras flashed. Little kids waved. The crowd cheered. Ed black hat teetered a bit more but it didn’t fall. He had mastered the art of being a clown, if only for one night.

Hey! The Circus is in Town!

Traditional circus music started to play and a clown on a unicycle whizzed around in circles. “Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, welcome to an American family tradition, the Carson and Barnes Family Circus!” This is what we’d all been waiting for – the circus.

Ponies paraded with red plumes on their heads. Amazing poodles played jump rope. Hula hoops rotated around a woman’s body while she stood on one leg. A contortionist squeezed his entire body into a small clear box and closed the lid. A daredevil road a motorcycle on the high wire. Clowns pulled silly stunts. Women swung from ropes wrapping curtains of red fabric around their bodies in an aerial artistry. Men swung from the trapeze. Colorfully clad guys and gals danced the samba. Delicately small women road on the backs of enormous elephants.

I sat in sheer delight as the acts ran in all three rings. My eyes darted around the circus tent. I did not want to miss a thing! This live entertainment exceeded all my expectations. My photos did not so if you want to see photos you need to go to the circus website You will see the talented people who entertained the crowd.

I do have photos of some unexpected things that happened at the circus on this August afternoon. I took my first elephant ride. Ed became a guest clown. And finally, Ed and I were invited to ride through the Big Top welcoming people to the 7 o’clock performance along with Tarzan, aka. Mike Bones from the Three Rivers Casino. We had a delightful Circus Day!

What's Really Going On Under The Big Top?

“This is the Big One!” Nearly every merchant window in Florence, Oregon displayed the yellow and red colored posters. They featured a circus elephant, red-nosed clowns and beautiful women adorned with feather plumed headdresses and glimmering costumes. “Carson & Barnes Circus, under a tent the size of a football field,” now that is BIG, and it was.

Sure, the posters grabbed our attention and so did the advance article in The Siuslaw News. But nothing got our attention at such a high magnitude as the Casino’s security team. Ed and I had been boondocking in the parking lot of Three Rivers Casino in Florence. Security came around to all the boondocking RVers asking us all to vacate the parking lots by the end of the day to make room for the circus. In 24-hours, the Casino lot would be transformed by The Big Top. Now, not only did I want to see the show, I wanted to know what’s really going on under the Big Top.

My guide introduced himself as the circus spokesman and clown “Poppa D.” Two hours before show time, Poppa D looked like an ordinary guy in a red t-shirt and shorts. By way of introduction, Poppa D explained he wasn’t always a clown but bits of clowning ran through his career. In his pre-circus life, Poppa D laughingly told me he worked as a “P E Warden”. I interpreted that to mean a physical education teacher, a job from which he retired at age 66. Before that, he served as a District Director for the Boy Scouts of America. While with BSA, he created “Freddie” the Hobo Clown, a lively addition to the Blue & Gold Banquet circuit. Freddie, he said, entertained families attending these traditional scouting events by performing pocket tricks. He did some dangerous clowning in his career too. Sometime back in 1972, Poppa D braved the bulls as a rodeo clown. Poppa D was serious about clowning, so serious that he trained as a professional clown by going to clown school in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. His wife Elaine went to the school too and created her own clown persona. Together, they travel eight months of the year performing in 500 shows in as many as 230 cities throughout 24 states in the US.

Poppa D pointed to the upper parking lot where our own coach had been the lone RV parked there a day earlier. It sure had changed. An assortment of RVs, truck campers, and a semi-trailer were crowded into the lot. This was now the circus camp. Some 130 performers and members of the support crew travel and live together on the road. There are 18 kids in the bunch whose parents work for the Carson & Barnes Family Circus. Parents home school these youngsters while on the road. Young and old crowd around the semi truck - the chuck wagon - for meals and sit at the portable tables -their informal dining room. They represent 12 countries from around the globe – Peru, Brazil, Mexico, the Ukraine, Columbia, Nicaragua and more. Before the circus season ends, these folks will travel some 50,000 miles bringing the circus to towns just like Florence, Oregon.

Carson & Barnes Family Circus is based in Hugo, Oklahoma. It’s been a family run business for over seven decades, preserving the traditional three-ring circus.

“It’s the biggest Big Top in the US,” Poppa D said with a wave of the hand emphasizing the grandeur of the circus tent. I found its dimensions on the circus website. The tent is indeed as large as a football field some 270-feet by 150-feet with over 2,000 seats.

The Big Top Crew set up the tent that very morning. According to Poppa D, set-up take 4 ½ hours. Tear down begins at 9:30 PM immediately after the end of the second performance. By 12:30 PM, the Big Top and all its parts will be packed up in 45 vehicles and ready to move by sun-up. This routine is repeated every day during the circus season.

The 119 poles for the Big Top are anchored by 450 stakes in the blacktop of the Casino lot. I asked Poppa D about the obvious pits the stakes would leave behind. Part of the tear down, he told me involves filling each hole with sand, gravel and more blacktop. A few days later, I walked through the lot where hundreds of stakes anchored the Big Top. Just as Poppa D had promised, there was not a trace of the circus stakes ever having cut through the surface of the lot.

Poppa D says the advance team needs to find lots that measure 400-feet by 300-feet to accommodate the Big Top, Concessions, animals and all the people. Fairgrounds are the best locations for the circus, casinos and church lots work too.

Poppa D and I walked under the Big Top past the three rings where performers would simultaneously entertain the afternoon and evening audiences. In all, there’d be 40 acts in each show. Can the circus acts compete with highly produced TV shows? Would the old fashioned circus fill the seats, all 2,000? Poppa D told me that the circus is an “endangered art form in the US” but is a “big deal in other countries like Mexico.” He was hoping for a big crowd in Florence drawing families with a “Butts in the Seat” promotion, one price for an entire family. No matter how many butts filled the seats, the show would go on!

The circus performers were ready. They had practiced earlier in the day under the Big Top. Rudy and Silvia were in the tractor trailer converted to a sound room testing the equipment. They would play the traditional circus music throughout the performances. Costumes hung on the racks ready for each performer to grab a quick change. The prop truck doors were open. Inside were the hoops, hats, and headdresses. The list of acts in order of performance was taped to the side of the prop truck so performers could check sequence of the acts. The elephants had been feed and watered. The generator – The Electric Department – hummed with power for the lights and sound. Whiffs of cotton candy scented the air around the concessions. Circus balloons bobbed in the breeze. Folks were lining up for tickets at the gate. The circus was taking on a new life, but a life sight-unseen to the circus goers had already unfolded under the Big Top.

August 28, 2008

Carson & Barnes Family Circus

With special thanks to Poppa D
who made this experience & story possible.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Crossing the Sandbar is a Rite of Passage

“Do you folks want to cross the sandbar?” asked the Captain of Fish Tales II. He nudged us toward an answer. “You really should go across it. Around these parts of Oregon, it’s a rite of passage to cross the sand bar at the mouth of the Siuslaw River into the Pacific Ocean,” he said.

Ed and I both answered “Yes” without consulting each other. Of course, we wanted to cross the sand bar into the Pacific Ocean aboard Captain Greg Helmer’s boat.

We had seen the Pacific Ocean view when we walked along the North Jetty Recreation Area in Florence, Oregon. We had dipped our toes in the icy cold ripple of waves on Heceta Beach. And, we had enjoyed vistas of the Siuslaw River from points along Rhododendron Drive. Now, we wanted to be on the water.

Ed would make this happen. He visited the harbor area in Florence and made inquiries that led him to Greg. It was a deal, we’d meet Greg at his boat which was docked in the Port of Siuslaw for a 10 AM Saturday guided boat ride.

Under a blue sky and calm air, Ed and I were Greg’s only paying passengers. Greg gave us a safety briefing that made it clear we would follow his directions without question in an emergency. Assured there’d be no mutiny, Greg offered us cushioned bench seats on the upper deck. He took the wheel behind us and casually began telling us about points of interest as he maneuvered Fish Tales II from the dock.

We were on the Siuslaw River, a waterway popular with sports fishermen and crabbers. We floated past Old Town Florence where restaurants, shops and galleries invite tourists spend their vacation money.

As we approached the Siuslaw River Bridge, Greg explained that it replaced ferry service across the river when it was built in 1936. I noticed the decorative towers which reminded me of my favorite building, the Cathedral of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh. I hadn’t realized that this was a draw bridge until we passed under the span on our return to the harbor. Greg had dropped his outriggers at outward angles to meet the height limitation of the bridge. He told me that taller boats need to give a two hour notice in order to have the draw span open.

Just past the bridge, magnificent sand dunes rose high along one side of the river. Million-dollar mansions set on tenuous sandy hillsides on the other riverside. Curious porpoises came to the water surface as the boat chugged through their water playground. A few seals lounged on the sandy beach. Folks waved from the crabbing pier. Seagulls circled scavenging for food.

Our captain motored slowly down the river. When the dunes and riverbanks gave way to the rocky walls of the North and South Jetty, Greg asked us to wear ocean sturdy life preservers. They were bulky orange vests that when fastened held our heads awkwardly. I felt like I was wearing a medical neck brace. I could not look down let alone hold the camera properly to take aim. “You have to wear these,” Greg apologized. “We are about cross the sandbar.” He radioed our position to the U.S. Coast Guard and requested clearance to move from the river to the ocean. “Go ahead Fish Tales,” is all I remember hearing the Coast Guard reply.

The roll of the ocean picked up the boat and dropped it in the trough again and again. Greg grew quiet and so did I. The push of the ocean rocked the boat. The sway forced me to stay in my seat. We approached a large buoy. Three sea lions resting on the base of the buoy dove into the water away from our vessel.

Greg expertly rounded the ocean buoy and faced the boat in the direction back to the river. We did it! We crossed the sandbar! Now, we could head back. There’d be no badge, no ceremony, just the joy of the experience on being on the water, crossing the invisible bar with Captain Greg.

August 23, 2008

Fish Tales Guide & Charter Service, LLC
Greg Helmer, Captain