I read this out loud in front of a microphone. For you:
Just a twenty minute drive from the border, Ashland the last city you put in your rearview mirror before you hit California. It’s most notably known for its thriving theater community: the Shakespeare Festival, Southern Oregon University’s stellar theater program, and half a dozen other theaters. The town touts dozens of plays during its busy season, ranging from Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet to Sweat; a play about how the North American Free Trade Agreement affected middleclass workers in America.
The town is nestled in the Rogue valley, making it a robust hub for outdoorsy events like mountain biking, kayaking, rafting, mountain climbing, hiking and fishing. It’s like a miniature Bend: full of people who triumphantly tote the dirt on their cars for weeks, the same way a fighter pilot displays victory tallies on the side of their aircraft. Ashland folk are a proud people. They love their town more than most people love their own reflection. Anyone trying to sell Ashland would speak of its culture, its ranging food options, its outdoor activities and its warm, comfortable climate.
But, like every town, Ashland is more than its touristy attractions. While there is no syndicate of crime, no dark alley dealings or corrupt cop, it still houses its own dark underbelly. A counter culture. Nonmainstream. In some ways, it is ahead of the curve. In regards to environmentalism, it has no equal in Oregon.
In regards to medicine, however, it’s more delusional than a schizophrenic in a house of mirrors. A friend of mine received not one, not two, but three crystals with “healing properties” as a wedding gift and I don’t remember seeing those on her wedding registry.
When speaking of religion, its somewhere between lunacy and fascination.
A small known fact about Ashland: it’s just forty minutes from Lemuria.
“…What?” I asked the Ashland resident when they shared this bit of trivia with me.
“It’s the lost city of the Lemurians,” the Ashlandian told me behind a sideways smile, her body language saying: Duh! “It resides in the core of a mountain called Shasta.”
Of course, how could I be so naïve? Since then, I’ve met a couple of self-proclaimed Lemurians, lost denizens of a stolen land, whom claim their third eye fires an arrow of content from their forehead into the heart of the mountain and connects them with the past, present and future. Some claim Lemurians are less of a humanoid, and more of a fairy. Others claim you can see these white robed creatures fluttering around the base of the mountain.
But perhaps the most compelling argument I’ve heard about the validity of Lemuria – the one that truly resonates with me and others I’ve shared it with – is that Mt. Shasta is made up of mostly rocks, trees, animals and dirt, and that its core isn’t filled with white robed fairies but simply more rocks and dirt.
Lemuria probably isn’t real. I wanted to tell this Ashlandian the same thing, but how could I prove it? I can’t go into Mt. Shasta’s core and show its lack of white robbed fairies. Regardless, I tell her the likelihood of its existence is about as likely as an honest heroin dealer who says he’s just putting the money away to send his kid to medical school. The possibility exists, and that’s all some people need.
Lemuria is just one of many of Ashland’s interesting spiritual choices. Fliers can be found stapled to telephone poles advertising “Crystal Induced Portals” promising to “open gateways to the lost city of Atlantis.” Portals that, when crystals are arranged correctly, will destroy the wall that disconnects the planar species.
One flier shares the work of one “Chamus ‘Clint’ Westonlee, People WHISPERER.” (Emphasis his.) Who,
…received his whisperer’s certificate on a fieldtrip to Wiltshire England, where he first encountered his druidic shaman ‘LIGHT REALM’ instructor Demius Martin III, an Interdimensional entity whose soul purpose on our plane of reality is to enhance the positive communication of non-verbal, concept oriented emotional directives thereby allowing us to more experience the vast dillusions of our mental apparatus. [sic]
I didn’t make it to his talk at the Holiday Inn Suites, but you can bet your chakra, your spirit animal and your talkative dead relatives that I was tempted.
Other fliers ask you to call the Rogue Valley Dream Survey to report your summary of a strange dream. Rest assured, they are “investigating the recent spike in bizarre, unexplainable dreams,” which, for me, is pretty much every dream.
Another claims you can fine tune your inner chakra by using crystals found in the core of the Himalayas. The crystal advertised has a purple backlit glow and a plastic cradle to hold it. Crude Runes and symbols drawn with chalk arrange themselves around it, giving it a Playground-Lovecraftian feel. All you’d need is some dry ice and spooky music and it’d look like a Halloween prop you might purchase at one of those shops that pop up one month out of the year.
A flier from “Captain ‘Stretch’ Yakitoma Pederson’s Master YOGA for wino wino wino’s.” Wine and yoga together. Perfectly normal, except for the elderly yoga instructor sitting in whitey-titeys, assuming a yoga stance with a bottle of wine nearby. Making one wonder if there is a natural partnership between wine and yoga, or if his students simply drink away the image of him doing downward-facing dog.
Truthfully, a large amount of the fliers could be fake. Chamus’s talk took place on the 30th of February, which as far I know, happens about as often as we see Octember 1st. That serves as a sort of proof that the flier is a fabrication, but at the same time we’re talking about someone who believes in people whispering and run-on sentences. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that they’re bad at calendars, too.
Part of me wants it to be false because its implications are scary – for the sake of all mankind, it’s hard to stomach the possibility that our human race believes in people whispering. But then again, I don’t know of a town where these types of fliers would even be a possibility. If I saw any one of these hanging in Portland, or Los Angeles or Chicago, I’d think, this is ridiculous. But seeing them here, knowing that this town houses these types of beliefs, I don’t bat an eye because they’re totally possible. They’re more believable – that someone truly thinks that if they arrange a set of crystals just right they’re going to open a gateway to a fictional city drown in the Atlantic Ocean after angering the gods – than the possibility that someone is creating these for shits and giggles. I don’t immediately jump to practical joke, because I know in my heart someone believes this. The real victim here is the Holiday Inn receptionist who was very confused about all the questions they were getting about “Clint” Westonlee’s talk about WHISPERING.
But the town’s quirks don’t stop there. It has enough food sensitivities to employ a platoon of allergists. Gluten sensitivity, milk, peanut, fry oil, fish oil, vegetarians, vegans and one patron’s own definition of their diet, “I don’t eat anything that screams.”
“Well,” I told her, “our chickens are very quiet, and so are our cows. Rest assured, these animals were muzzled or knocked out when they died so you can eat with a sound conscience. We also have a lot of seafood, and as far as I know, fish don’t make any noise.” She didn’t share my enthusiasm.
Individuals who had a “hyper-sensitivity to anything gluten” would find an item they liked on the menu, only to be told, “there’s a whole loaf of bread in that.”
I’d return after giving them a moment to look at the menu and their lifelong allergy to something they didn’t really understand would be gone. As if God himself had come down, touched them on the head and said, “For joy with ye go forth, and with peace ye are brought in. The loaves and the beers break before your digestive system and praise your name in song. Go forth and eat gluten.”
In a world where stores feel the need to label their apples and milk as “gluten-free”, Jesus would be curing Gluten Allergies and turning MSG into salt instead of clearing leprosy or turning water to wine if he had come a couple thousand years late.
“It’s cheat day,” the carbon sensitive person tells me. “One day a week isn’t that bad for me.”
I want to remind him that I didn’t ask him, and I want to tell him that’s not how allergies work, but I simply smile and silently resent him instead; it’s the server way.
But perhaps the best way to sum up Ashland, the story I tell my friends and strangers, is it’s “pest” problem. Not the traditional pests such as mice, rats and other rodents from the days of yore. These pests weigh between 150 and 300 pounds, can jump an 8 foot fence and have a complete disregard for authority or traffic signals. They slum on the sidewalks and take free handouts from people, and have no healthy fear of mankind, making them the biggest nuisance of Ashland. They can be aggressive, and seem to travel in herds. They could use a shower, or a job, but neither seem to be on their docket.
What to do with these pests is such a controversial issue, that the town held an open forum to speak of solutions. Because, quite frankly, as one newspaper put it, “the deer were getting horribly out of control.”
Yes, deer. Four legged creatures I like to think as the prologue to a story about a good venison burger, but part of the town doesn’t share my sentiment. These deer live in blissful ignorance, free from the equalizing effects of a foodchain; where its biggest predator is not a mountain lion, hunter or bear but a battery powered Toyota Prius traveling at 15mph.
Of all of the arguments, I can essentially distill them into two:
On one hand, the deer are a pest: they destroy gardens, act aggressively towards humans, overbreed and obstruct traffic. They are the home to countless parasites and represent a system with no regulation. Firing guns or bows in Ashland is prohibited, leaving residents to kill a deer by hand, should they feel the urge when one comes on their property. Since Ashland is the home of actors and not 12th century barbarians (though some would argue with that), very few have wielded their father’s sword and driven the interlopers back whence they came.
And on the other hand, they’re cute.
“They were here first!” One woman cried at the town meeting. “We have no right to take them from their natural habitat.”
So were the mountain lions, the cougars, bears and Native Americans, but, admittedly, the deer problem is less complicated.
One police officer allegedly answered a call from a woman who wanted to put in crosswalks for the deer. To train them to press a button alerting drivers and to then walk across the painted section of road. The officer didn’t ask any further questions, but I can only assume her next suggestion would be to get the deer to pick up their own poop and finally pay their damn taxes.
The meeting was divisive. Black and white. Contrasting arguments where no one really could come to a conclusion. Those who went found themselves exactly where they started: their opinion feeling perfectly valid and the other side was still made up of absolutely lunatics. In the end, nothing was decided. Those that loved our tick ridden, flee infested, garden destroying deer still thought they were cute. “And the tourists love them,” my neighbor told me after the meeting.
It’s ridiculous that people find the deer ridiculous. I live in a town where the largest point of civil unrest is not crime, school, traffic, police brutality, a dying economy or starvation… but deer. It perfectly sums up the socioeconomic status of the town while also demonstrating the town’s mental instability, that’s why it defines this town. Our “Welcome to Ashland” sign needs a subtitle: “Home of the deer problem.”
When I first heard about the meeting, I laughed. Because it was absolutely ridiculous that we were even gathering the town’s intellectuals to finally tackle the issue we had with our deer problem…
…then again, those deer really are an issue. They attacked a dog down the street from me, and it’s only a matter of time until someone is attacked, what if someone leaves their baby outside on the sidewalk for a second? Just a second, they had to get something. Maybe to grab their cup of coffee, or the morning paper, or their iPad so they could play the new Farmville Cannabis: Ashland Edition – when one of those shady deer creeps into picture. It’s been waiting in the bushes for this moment, it shifts its eyes both ways as it emerges and walks up to the unsupervised baby.
The parent runs outside when they hear little Johnny crying. They see the two fresh hoof marks on his face – the deer’s signature, probably a gang sign – and the backside of a deer leaping his 12 foot garden fence, designed to keep out convicts, with infuriating ease. It then tramples and consumes the entirety of his tomato garden. They just came in season, too. He calls the cops and they fill out a police report. Third deer attack this week and its only 9am on Monday.
That narrative, or something near it, runs through my mind.
I’m not sure what’s more outraging: the aggressive deer that have a complete disregard and disrespect for nature’s food chain, or the fact that I just used the word “outrage” to describe my feelings toward the deer. How did it come to this? Where did I go wrong? At what point in a string of events did I become of those people that hated the dear? And note that I say the deer, not deer. I have no problem with deer in general, just these deer.
Can someone be racist against certain group of deer? If so, I’m more racist than a toothless Alabaman sitting on his front porch with a shotgun resting on his lap and a confederate flag hanging in the front window.
I realize now, that the town has grown on me, but not the way a coworker might – more of the way a benign tumor might grow on someone’s shoulder, harmless but disconcerting.
Perhaps it is too quick to judge the town. I condemn the belief in a Lemurian paradise residing in a mountain, while believing that a man died 2000 years ago for every bad thing I did so I could spend an eternity with him, his dad, and their pet dove named “The Holy Spirit.” I laugh at gluten sensitivity, while I myself avoid rum not because I have a doctor’s diagnosis, but instead on principle: whenever I drink it, I wake up the next morning feeling like last week’s garbage.
Ashland is a town beyond reality. It lives on its own plane of existence, making its residents nod in approval when they hear it described as seven square miles surrounded by reality. In a lot of ways, it’s like the Shire from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. The things that make it wonderful also make it odd. It’s quaint, small, beautiful and backwards.
It’s at times counter-logic. It’s a place where a man can stand on his soap box in the middle of the plaza, spouting his hatred for evil corporate America while holding a Starbucks cup in his hand. The “We are the 1%” bumper stickers and Occupy Ashland movement, in a town that drove out McDonalds, are about as useful as going to a hospital burn ward and telling them the dangers of fires. I’ve lived here for four years, and I’d like to think I’ve come to understand it in all its intricacies. But I find myself with more questions than answers.
When I find myself walking home alone, navigating the dark residential streets of Ashland, I don’t fantasize about how I’d defend myself from hypothetical muggers or murderers, replaying in my mind the one-liner I’d say after deftly knocking their gun to the ground as I watched them flee before me. I think of how I’d respond to a pair of beady eyes, staring back at me beneath a rack of sharpened antlers. Would I run, leaving my sense of self-respect and pride behind me? Or would I stand my ground and assert my species’ claim at the top of the food chain?
Whatever happened – whether from the comfort of my home, with my dignity left to collect rain and dirt in the street, or under the clean sheets of a hospital bed – I’d be sure to write about my run-in with our looming pest problem, and add my heart wrenching story to the growing list of victims to Ashland’s deer.