Paul William Jacob
Listen to the audio version of Ashland Autumn read by the author here
One day in late September of 2005, as I was walking through the Mission District of San
Francisco to work at the radical raw restaurant that had occupied my physical and
emotional bodies for the better part of the last six months, the wind blew, and I
smelled apples ripening on bountiful trees from up in the great northwest. A sense
of longing to be in cool fall weather up in the mountains where I could take part in the harvest and watch the leaves oxidize and turn wondrous shades of yellow, orange and red infused into me.
When I arrived at work, which was already on its way to being distilled out of my reality, there was a line out the door. The place was vibrating with hungry New Age energy. The patrons were a buzz with raw food and spiritual conversation. Later, as the crowd died down and a sense of calm began to exist in the restaurant, I began to ask around for people to cover my upcoming shifts so I could take ten days off to wander up in Oregon and see what I found there. When I left work later that night, all of my shifts were covered and I began to mentally plan what to pack in my rucksack on my bus journey home from the trendy noisy Mission to the foggy and serene Cole Valley where I lived.
In order to raise money for my harvest trip, I held a harvest dinner. I cooked a five-course organic vegan supper for twelve people in the grand dining room of the house I was living in at the time. I decorated the table with leaves, pumpkins, squash, apples and autumn flowers. All of the food and wine came from local organic farms. My friends and acquaintances placed their monetary donations in a hollowed out gourd that was passed around the table. I harvested enough money for a round-trip train ticket, food and ten nights of camping. I felt blessed.
The following is the menu I created for this special event:
This trip really meant a lot to me so in the time leading up to it I prepared myself by
reading Black Elk Speaks and making a CD of my favorite songs by the band
Explosions In The Sky, who play mesmerizing atmospheric West Texas guitar rock.
Their music was featured in the movie Friday Night Lights,
a wonderful film about high school football in Texas.
Ripe Melon Duet: Cold White Melon Soup garnished with Fresh Ground Cinnamon and Mint paired with Yellow Melon Sorbet
Mixed Sweet Lettuces and Arugula accompanied by Alaskan Pea Shoots, Clover Sprouts, Colorful Heirloom Cherry Tomatoes and Pan-Fried Baby Apple Slices drizzled with Blackberry-Apple Cider Vinaigrette
Roasted Baby Carrots and Sautéed Brown Mushrooms arranged over Baked Sweet Potato Puree dusted with Nutmeg and White Pepper crowned with Pomegranate-Toasted Sesame Oil Reduction
Spinach Gnocchi baked with Rustic Marinara encircled by Roasted Red Peppers served with a side of Early Girl Tomato Soup accented with Fresh Oregano, Marjoram and Rosemary
Slender slices of Pumpkin Pie and Apple Tart escorted by Agave-Bourbon Sauce decked out with Roasted Pecans and Pumpkin Seeds, sprinkled with Freshly Ground Clove and adorned with a Leaf Cookie
I also asked my friend Jack if he would like to join me for the last weekend of the trip. He agreed to meet me there, basically, wherever I ended up because I had no idea where I was going. I only knew that I wanted to be up in Oregon. I bought a round-trip train ticket from Emeryville to Klamath Falls, picked up a bundle of sage at the Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market, and prayed to Wakan Tanka to guide me wherever I needed to be.
Iron Horse Ride Through Midnight Sky
I love trains, and this journey was no exception. I boarded the iron horse in Emeryville, after a short bus trip from San Francisco, at about ten o'clock at night. The atmosphere outside the station was magic waiting for me to step onto the train and back inside the mystery of travel. I settled into my seat, placed my duffel bag and backpack on the empty place next to me and watched the passing industrial parks until the buildings became sparse and the land opened up into flat stretches of farmland. The sky was clear and the moon seemed to follow the train until I fell asleep to dreams of marionberry pie and crisp apple cider.
I awoke while it was still dark but could see bright dawn peaking her head through the now diffused blanket of dark covering the earth. I got out my headphones and put in my new CD. The music began to play, fusing perfectly with the rising dawn illuminating the tall and erect soldier-like profiles of trees along the tracks. As we passed Mt. Shasta the song I was listening to built to a dramatic climax as the sun broke through the sky spotlighting its rays down upon the magnetic height of the mountain.
There is no amount of money that could buy from me the moment I spent on that train passing Mt. Shasta at dawn with my headphones on. I felt all the emotion of the previous year of learning, working, and healing in San Francisco break loose and go flooding through my body, releasing up and out into the aura of that illustrious mountain. I let the emotion flow from within me while outside my window Mt. Shasta emanated her golden glow.
The other passengers began to stir as the cabin was saturated with morning light. There is an intimacy that builds on a train between passengers after they have spent the night together stealing through small dusty towns and hinterlands known only to the hawks that hunt field mice among brushy midnight meadows. Upon waking you feel a comradery with those who traverse the land in this slow time-honored way. A train is grounding. It allows you to slowly feel the length of the journey connecting to itself through winding track distance. Your consciousness is allowed to gradually adjust and expand with the land to the oncoming location.
Bending the Deck
The train pulled into Klamath Falls in mid-morning. A few of us got off and stretched our legs. The place was desolate save for one man standing next to a van.
"Do you want a lift on the Bend Express?" he asked.
"Sure," I replied.
One other guy agreed to a ride as well, so the three of us headed off together towards Bend. I had heard of Bend. I knew there was a hostel there that would probably have free beds this being midweek and all. The driver was a salmon fisherman and a salmon smoker. He gave both of his passengers a piece of salmon jerky. It was chewy, salty and made my mouth salivate. The driver told us that during fishing season he catches a few hundred pounds of salmon and that income along with driving this shuttle sustains him.
He dropped me off on a main road a little outside of downtown because the other passenger was in a rush to meet some people at a hunting lodge outside of Bend. I walked about a mile with my backpack and duffel passing under a wonderful graffitied railroad trestle and eventually wound up at the hostel. It was a converted hotel, restaurant, microbrewery and hostel with colorful murals adorning the old memory-soaked wooden walls. I would be the only guest in the hostel tonight, a large space with twelve beds.
I wandered around Bend for a while and stopped at another microbrewery with an outside garden area. When I was in Berlin one summer I developed a love for beer gardens. I had chosen a Porter to drink on this, the first day of my trip, because I wanted that chocolate caramel chewiness to swirl around the inside of my mouth. As I sat and drank my beer, the sun began to show signs of waning. I finished the brew and journeyed a ways to one of the famous local buttes, basically a small dirt mountain, climbed up and looked out over the town of Bend situated smack dab in the Oregon high desert. From my vantage point I watched as the sky turned iridescent pink, orange, and red. A classic desert sunset.
Cards by the Fire
The place I was staying at had a very intimate bar hidden among the garden area. There were only a couple of tables situated around an old fireplace that sent warmth and red glow out into the tiny candlelit room. Earlier when I was walking around the town, I had gone into an esoteric shop and for some strange reason noticed a flyer for a local girl who gave tarot card readings. I gave her a call and we agreed to meet at this magic little hideaway at the booth closest to the fireplace.
I had only had one tarot card reading in my life, the last time I lived in St. Augustine right before moving back to San Francisco to attend holistic health school. That reading had bewildered me because the cards and the guy interpreting them seemed to know everything that was going on in my life at the time. I was also a very willing participant in that reading and I think that had a lot to do with it. Any space can be a signpost if you are open to reading the signs.
This Bend tarot reader was young, in her early twenties, a go-go dancer by trade who did tarot readings whenever spirit moved people to find her. She said that she loved doing tarot readings and only charged people ten dollars for them, but no longer liked go-go dancing and was thinking about working at the local movie theatre instead. "But," she explained, "the money is much better at the club."
The few other patrons in the place were guys and they kept looking over at us during the reading. I guess they had never seen a tarot reading performed at a bar before. This reading was more obtuse than acute though. It gave me an overall view of what exactly my life was at that moment. What this trip was for me. It was a preparation, a ceremonial make ready that would infuse me with power for more demanding situations later with regards to an ultimate distillation. That's what I got out of it anyway. More than anything, she was entertaining and we both enjoyed participating in the ritual aspect of the reading. Then she left and I finished my malty slightly-hopped amber ale and headed back to fall sleep in my huge empty room, which little did I know was filled with dreams and omens.
That night I dreamt of a large white horse walking through a small field to a clear spring. The horse dipped his head down and drank of the water. There was steam rising from the pool. Then the horse looked back at me and walked slowly up into the mountain. As I walked towards the edge of the field I came upon a place saturated with blackberry bushes. In front of me a small mountain path ascended in switchbacks. Then I woke up.
Through the Mountains to the Spring in My Dream
In the morning I took a stroll around Bend and decided to leave. My night had been fruitful, but my intuition said to move on. The bus station was about a mile away and took me about twenty minutes to walk over there with my bags slung on my back. I perused the schedules and bought a ticket to Salem. This journey would take me over and through the mountains the eastern side of Oregon. Once in Salem I would transfer from my small bus to a larger one heading down towards Medford and Southern Oregon.
Fate and luck were on my side as there was only one other passenger on my small bus. I stretched out across the seats and gazed out the window in awe as we rolled through little forest hamlets and then up and over and down the mountains again. At one point I thought I saw two hawks waltzing in the sky.
When we arrived in the capital city of Salem the bus station was fairly empty. I had an hour to pass so I strolled around the quaint downtown, where I bought a loaf of fresh baked bread and sat down and ate it in a park along the Willamette River. I remembered that my Athens, Georgia, poetess comrade Chloe had spent one year in Salem living with her aunt and uncle. She had liked it but eventually grew tired of all the rain.
The bus from Salem to Medford was packed with people going down to San Francisco and Los Angeles. When we stopped for a short break in the college town of Eugene the bus station was filled with drifters: young kids with bandanas and rucksacks and older guys with bottles of alcohol and flannel shirts stashed in goodwill duffels. I was drifting as well, so I boarded the bus, settled in, sat back, looked out the window and listened to the conversations. What stories we drifters can tell. There was no need for my headphones on this leg of the trip, as I had all the entertainment I needed for hours.
There was one kid out of all the crazy passengers on this bus ride that will always
stick with me. He was a big tall kid that kind of resembled the character "Chief"
from the movie
One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest and was a bit slow-witted.
Yet he was what I would call an honest forthright soul who would never hurt a fly.
He kept telling me that his mother, who was a very spiritual Native American woman,
had sent him on this trip that had originated all the way up in Spokane, Washington,
and would eventually end near Flagstaff, Arizona, where his grandmother lived.
He told me that his mother believed that his life force was being sucked out of him up in Spokane and that the mountains outside of Flagstaff would reenergize his force and usher him towards manhood and his true destiny in this world.
The bus pulled into Medford at a little after nine o'clock at night. I walked off the streamlined silver vessel and grabbed my rucksack from the underneath compartment. I looked out into the street and was just about to sit down against an old brick building and ponder my situation in the fresh moonlight, when a very pretty young girl asked me, "Well, what are you going to do now?"
"Are you talking to me?" I asked her.
"You are the one looking quite perplexed with what to do next," she replied.
Not only was this girl very pretty, she was intelligent and had a sarcastic sense of humor. As a Jersey boy, I appreciated that. "Ì hadn't figured that out yet," I answered.
"Well," she replied, "I came here to collect my sister and now I am heading into Ashland, would you like to go there?"
Ashland? My friend Michael Murphy had told me that he had once come across this town on a trip up the coast from San Francisco. He told me it was quite charming and had a nice downtown. I thought to myself for a second and then proclaimed, "Yes, I would like to go to Ashland."
"That's good, because that's where we're going."
The girl drove an old beat-up small blue car that had stuffing spilling out of the front seats and no seat belts. However it was a ride with two young pretty girls who had nomadic souls like mine so I sat back and enjoyed the ride. The girl driving was the older sister of the girl riding in the back. The girl driving lived in Ashland. The girl riding in the back had just moved here from the mountains of Tennessee to live with her big sister. Where were their parents? Who knows? They were here, giving me a lift.
"So where do you want to go in Ashland?" the girl driving asked.
"I don't know. Are there any hot springs there?"
"You're joking right?" she responded.
"Why?" I asked.
"Because there's a great place right outside of town where I actually used to live for a while and you can camp there or stay in a teepee if you like. It's a special place to be," she replied.
"How could I not stay there after that introduction," I answered.
We drove towards the springs and I could feel my body becoming loose and happy with anticipation of a morning soak. In a short time we arrived. The girl driving gave me a hug and said, "Be sure to soak it all in. And in the morning when you wake up, go and pick some blackberries for breakfast, there are tons of them out in the back of the property by the hills."
I promised to find the blackberries and then slapped her kid sister five from the backseat and they were off and I had arrived. I took a deep breath and smelled the minerals of the spring water in the air. I love that smell. The smell of elements co-mingling together: water, earth and air.
Watching the Smoke Leave
I went into the office, which was about to close, and rented a teepee for the next eight days. The price was very reasonable and included use of the springs, dry sauna, natural showers and locker room inside the compound. As I walked to my lodging, I looked up at the moon and the stars, natural wonders that I hardly ever saw in San Francisco. They were bedazzling in their clarity and luminescence, they seemed so close to me and intelligent. The moon was large and orange-tinted. The harvest was approaching. I could sense the apples vibrating on the trees.
The teepee was fairly large and very tall with an opening at the top that could be adjusted with two long poles. There was a deep fire pit in the center of the space. I put my backpack and rucksack down and laid my sleeping bag out with a sweatshirt for a pillow. I retrieved a small flashlight from my backpack and headed out to scrounge up enough firewood to get me through what had become a very chilly Oregon October night.
Gathering firewood proved easier than I thought and within about an hour I had a vibrant fire whose silhouetted flames danced magically along the stretched rounded canvas of the teepee.
I took out the bundle of sage that I had bought at the farmers market in San Francisco and
threw it onto the flames. The medicinal white smoke smudged through me, cleansing all of the conversations and transient energies I had been exposed to on the bus trip out of my psyche, allowing me to be present with the spiritual heat of the fire and the sublime beauty of smoke filtering out of the small hole at the top of my cone shaped lodging.
The smoke was the essence of the burning wood releasing up and back out into the wilderness. This scene was a very deep natural blessing bestowed upon me. A beautiful chain of events that led me exactly where I wanted to be---cozy by the fire in the Fall up in Oregon.
The First Soak and Beyond
After a blissful sleep I woke-up and started a fire to boil some water for tea and to
keep me warm when I came back from my soak. Back in San Francisco I had blended a very nice tea for myself: fennel seeds, cinnamon bark, sarsaparilla root and saw palmetto berries. I sat by the fire on a little bench I had made from a wooden plank and two cinder blocks I had found the previous night while collecting firewood. I sipped my tea, letting the herbs infuse their flavor and sense of earth deep into my body.
While partaking in my tea I remembered what the girl who had given me a ride to the spring had said about there being blackberries growing on the back of the property. So I made my way out of the teepee and walked west as the dazzling morning light warmed the back of my neck.
After a short time I came to a cluster of blackberry bramble growing along a small service road. There were tons of the tiny dark purple jewels clinging to the bushes. I plucked one from its root and placed it in my mouth. I let the berry sit there, feeling its shape, texture, allowing its color to saturate my tongue. Then I bit into its luscious dark body, which burst all over my taste buds, presenting my senses with a rush of tart and sweet, like life in its most simple bewildering moments. All was right with my world as I stood on the side of the road in Oregon picking and eating blackberries.
All of a sudden I remembered the dream I had at the hostel in Bend of the white horse dipping his head into the springs to drink and then heading off up into a small switchback trail by a row of blackberry bushes. I looked around me. I was there. It all made sense. All of it. Life. The journey. Arrival. What departure really is to someone presently on their path. Pilgrimage. Travel. Movement. Stillness. Roots. Contemplation. Fruit. Harvest. Autumn. The Fall.
I spent the next five days wandering around the small hills, soaking in the spring waters, hitch-hiking into the quaint downtown, eating marionberry pies, drinking soft and hard apple ciders, writing poetry, sipping local pear brandy and partaking in various seasonal microbrews.
Then my friend Jack arrived on his motorcycle after making the long haul from San
Francisco up I-5, with a bottle of homemade Absinthe his girlfriend had made on an
herb farm in Sebastopol.
After a soak and some blackberries, we built a nice fire and ritualistically consumed the absinthe in our teepee from midnight into the wee hours of the morning, as our inebriated minds stalked the smoke from our fire as it journeyed up and out of the planted canvas shelter into the great holy hole of sky and universe wrapping our bodies like a blanket inside this earthly dream of organic mystery and its individual incantations of wholeness and wonder.
When I arrived back in San Francisco I gave my two week notice at the raw restaurant. I had had enough of its spiritual jargon. What I realized during my time up in Oregon, especially inside the hallowed space of the teepee, was that life is big enough for all of us. Some people may need specialized belief and dietary systems to feel special and more evolved than other people, but I did not.
Even though I often ventured inside experimental/radical spaces to experience different
views and tastes of life, I would always be a joyful blue-collar nomadic soul at heart.
A person that understands that our true value as human beings is not based on what dietary
or spiritual system we may practice, but simply who we are in our deepest hearts.
And the only way to know this essential and connnective truth is to be alone with ourselves
without all of the theorists and philosophical pundits babbling their ideas into
In the end, it is not the elaborate decorations that we adorn ourselves with that make us beautiful, but the stripping away of everything but our original radiant self, which like the smoke releasing through the hole at the top of the teepee, lays us bare to existence.
Autumn Harvest Refresher
There is nothing like the autumn harvest and this drink captures the season's clear, crisp, colorful and deep poetic offering.
2 ounces of plum-infused tawny port wine
1 ½ ounces of fresh local organic apple cider
½ ounce of seltzer water
Freshly-grated nutmeg (for rim of glass)
Freshly-grated lemon zest (for rim of glass)
Rim a martini glass with fresh-grated nutmeg and lemon zest.
Mix port and cider together and shake well with ice.
Strain liquid contents into the rimmed martini glass.
Top up with seltzer water.
Garnish with a candied apple slice.
Listen to the audio version of Ashland Autumn read by the author here
©2010 by Paul William Jacob