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Margaret and I went to Ashland for Shakespeare as I wrote about earlier, but also to explore the local area a little bit. Sunday we went to Wildlife Safari, that I covered in my last blog post.

Wolf Creek Tavern in southern Oregon

Built in 1883 and continuously operating since then.

After Wildlife Safari, we stopped at The Historic Wolf Creek Inn for a cocktail. This stop was a delight because it’s in the middle of nowhere and I didn’t know anything about it other than having seen the highway signs for it for many years as I passed through on I-5. Henry Smith built his third hotel to be “the upscale one” along the stagecoach route. Built in 1883, Wolf Creek Inn is the oldest continuously operated hotel in the Pacific Northwest.

Famous guests include Clark Gable and Carol Lombard, and the bed they used is still in use today in the largest guest room. Mr. Gable liked to fish in the nearby Rogue River. The most famous guest was Jack London, whose room is considered so special it can’t be touched, and everything is maintained today as it was for Mr. London when he occupied it.

The Women’s Parlour

Jack London’s Room. Complete with Jack London’s chamber pot.

Our next stop was to find a covered bridge. Oregon has many, and I never tire of seeing them.

Grave Creek Bridge

Touring Wildlife Safari, then Wolf Creek Inn, then a covered bridge, was enough adventure for Sunday, and we dropped to sleep happy at our hotel in Ashland.

Monday morning we left to try to find a trail to the top of Table Rock. This is a volcanic mesa with a wide flat top that is easily seen from I-5. We found trail descriptions for Upper Table Rock and Lower Table Rock trails and made a wild guess that the one we wanted was “upper,” since we didn’t know there was another one, so the other one must be “lower.” We guessed wrong. But the trail was wonderful.

An interpretive sign at the beginning of the trail explains that these mesas were formed as the result of lava flow from a volcano 7 million years ago. Most of the flow eroded away, but the parts that remain are eye-catching plateau formations today. A website I found later claims that the volcanic flow was 9.6 million years ago. The website also explains that the Takelma Indians lived there when the area became overrun by miners and settlers in the gold rush. The Indians fortified themselves on Upper Table Rock and then launched an attack in 1853 to reclaim their lands. Apparently a reservation was assigned to them that included the Table Rocks area. (And there the website narrative ends…leading me to wonder if the Indians ever got to live there in peace, and at what point was the reservation dissolved, since there isn’t one there right now. And frustrated that anyone can say, “The Indians were given some land,” and can pretend with a straight face that it’s the end of the story. Ok, sorry. End of rant.) *

Up close look at the anthracite formations at the beginning of the trail.

Fabulous red trunks of madrone trees that are common along the Oregon coast.

The trail was super short and easy, but Margaret and I extended our time there by delighting in the beauty of the views and the lovely forest of black oaks and madrone.

At the top we headed directly for the edge of the mesa and were impressed with views of the Rogue River Valley.

Margaret looking toward Medford, Oregon.

We chatted with other hikers up there as well.

In the distance I spotted Lower Table Rock, the one I’ve seen a hundred times from the Interstate.

Canyon in the U-shaped mesa.

The top of Upper Table Rock is not as flat as I assumed it would be. As an unrepentant volcano-lover, I was excited to see these formations.

After our hike we went into the darling town of Jacksonville to wander shops and antique stores and enjoy the lovely weather. Next we went to the Rogue Creamery Cheese Shop and sampled some too-die-for blue cheeses. I confess, I purchased a couple pounds of it. Across from there is Lilliebelle Farms Handmade Chocolates, where we also sampled. I was tempted by the chili chocolates, but ended up purchasing the lavender sea salt caramels.

On Tuesday we decided to find another hike before our matinee show. This time we chose what looked like a loop, titled Toothpick Trail to Catwalk Trail Loop in our hiking app. It was a forest trail with a single view of something other than forest, very little interesting nature, and in the end, no loop. Turns out, there is a road the trail eventually intersects with, and you can return down the road, making a loop. Not what we had in mind.

The one and only viewpoint from Toothpick Trail was indeed lovely.

Intrepid hikers that we are, we found things of interest anyway, to keep our spirits up. As with the hike the day before, this trail was super short and easy, so once we realized it connected to other trails, we just kept going. There is a maze of trails on top of the ridge, and I was tickled to find their names all Alice In Wonderland themed, such as Caterpillar, Lewis, Jabberwocky and Bandersnatch.

These trails are popularized by mountain bikes. We were passed by multiple people on bikes, all of them polite and careful not to run us down. There were plastic ribbons strung between trees all over the place to keep the bikes on the best paths, lots and lots of warning signs and informational signs for the bikers. Probably helpful for them, but really ugly for us. We were intrigued by the trails built with humps and banked corners for bikes. This is trail construction we had not seen before.

Humps and banks built for mountain bikers (I cropped the photo to remove all the plastic tape strung between trees).

Trail marker for mountain bikers.

The other amusement we found on the trail was when we came across some experienced older male hikers. M and I must have looked dubious in our light, girly tourist clothing, carrying no pack whatsoever and a single water bottle between us. Makeup, jewelry… you get it. No one else knows that M and I both have over twenty years of backpacking experience. The reason we showed up looking completely unprepared for the forest is because we are *so* experienced that this truly was like going for a walk for us. None of these trails was more than a mile from a road, we were merely trying to kill time waiting for our Manahatta matinee down the hill in Ashland. We weren’t winded in the least, and did not consider the trails a challenging hike.

So. We spot some other hikers and we beeline for them, because we’re hoping to get some insider knowledge on how to make an actual loop out of all this hilltop wandering we’ve been doing. There are three men, 50-60 ish, in full Outdoor Gear, hiking poles, day packs, water bladders, specialty footgear, protctive hats – all of it. They tell us they are locals and hike up there all the time. They are immediately concerned for us, considering that our first question was “Is there a trail over on this side of the mountain that will link us back to Toothpick Trail?” which they interpret as us saying, “We don’t know where we are.” They ask us if we’re hungry, can they share their water with us, are we lost, are we ok? Oh good grief. I don’t think they ever really understood what we were doing up there. We kept saying we were fine, we weren’t worried or lost, we were only trying to make a more interesting hike. They assured us that there was no link back to Toothpick Trail and our best bet would be to return the way we came. “Can you find your way back?” they asked. We managed not to roll our eyes and waved goodbye and thanks. I hope none of them lost any sleep worrying that there would be two emaciated and terrified women trapped on the hill that night. I imagine that must happen around here, with the bazillion tourists who show up for plays like we did.

We got to the play on time and now the timeline goes back to my original post of this trip.

* Quick research on Wikipedia indicates that the Table Rock Reservation lasted a whopping three years. After which, fighting broke out again. Some Indians were marched Trail-of-Tears-like, on foot 300 miles to another reservation; others were put onto ships and moved, all of them that lived eventually ending up on reservations south of Portland.

Our backstage guide, Sal, talking about the Elizabethan Theatre.

I made my debut on the Elizabethan Theatre stage!! Then they asked me to get off – for safety reasons. Ha ha ha ha!!

Margaret and I met up for a vacation a little closer to home than our two most recent trips to Chile and to Myanmar. This time, we went to southern Oregon! She drove north 5 1/2 hours from Santa Rosa and I drove south 5 1/2 hours from Rainier. We met at a hotel in Ashland.

The town of Ashland, in Southern Oregon, is famous for its Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF), founded in 1935. These days it’s a pretty big deal. Wikipedia says “Each year, the Festival offers 750 to 800 performances from February through late October or early November, to a total audience of about 400,000. The company consists of about 675 paid staff and 700 volunteers.” The website also notes that by 2015, 20 million people had attended.

Even though my mother went to high school in Ashland, and my grandmother lived here when I was a kid, and I have family that lived in the area for decades, and even while I traveled through constantly on my way to northern California to pick up and deliver Tara while their dad and I were sharing custody, and even though I have lived in Oregon for the last 11 years, this was my very first visit to Ashland for the purpose of seeing Shakespeare. It’s about damned time.

We had tickets to two matinees (they’re expensive – I couldn’t afford more), one Tuesday and one Wednesday. We arrived Saturday night and entertained ourselves with other things Sunday and Monday. We did a couple of hikes, one of them the morning before our Tuesday show. I’ll get to all that stuff later. Stay tuned.

The first play we saw was Manahatta, by Mary Kathryn Nagle at the Thomas Theatre. It was my choice that we see this one, because the playwright is Cherokee, and I continue my quest to learn about my Native history and support other Indians when I can. Two stories are told at once, overlapping. One is set in the 17th Century when Dutch colonists were recently arrived on the island called Manahatta by the occupants and while trading with the local Lenape Indians, decided they wanted control of their land. The other is set on precisely the same piece of land, 380 years later called Manhattan, as a modern Lenape woman fights her way into employent at the white male dominated Lehman Brothers bank and begins to make a name for herself on Wall Street.

The young woman in both stories is at first filled with hope of youth and all the possibilities of life ahead of her, and both are eventually devastated through wrenching tragedy. The Dutch trick the Lenape into allowing them to settle on the island, and then the kick all the Indians off the island and build a wall to keep them out, then shoot and kill her husband and father of her unborn child. The wall is later immortalized in the name of a street in Manhattan, synonymous with a financial center. Lehman Brothers is embroiled in sub-prime mortgage lending and fails and the young woman knows she was a part of the bad practices, while simultaneously the woman’s childhood home is foreclosed upon, making her own mother homeless.

The author said one of her goals in Manahatta was to show the audience how our history is always part of our present, whether or not we realize it. The final line of the play was when the modern Lenape woman speaks introspectively about the interaction of the Lenape with colonists saying, “Ever since they arrived they have been trying to get rid of us, and we are still here.”

That line wrecked me. I am no Indian activist, but I guess with the years that I have spent learning over and over and over how to recognize subtle and sometimes unintentional but always consequential attempts to erase indigenous Americans, I too have begun to feel a resonant idignation at how hard it is to convince people that we are here. Right in front of you all: we are here! Living in 2018, using smart phones, running companies, getting graduate degrees, flying cross country to visit grandma, standing in line at Starbucks, watching Netflix, marrying and having families and shopping at Target.

Ahoy, ye mateys!

The lights came up immediately and I was bawling so hard I couldn’t speak. Margaret practically had to lead me by my arm to get me out of there. She insisted that I needed to go next to the fabulous gift shop and try on masks and hats on display for Halloween. I acquiesced, and it definitely helped. (Thank you Margaret)

That night my friend decided that we should do a backstage tour the next morning, only $20 each. We both went on line to try and book one, but we couldn’t make it work. She called the box office to buy tickets and was informed that first of all the backstage tours are only available to OSF members (minimum membership $35), and second of all the tours were sold out for Wednesday. The man on the phone said that sometimes there are tickets available just before the tour, when someone returns tickets they can’t use…but they are still only available to members. Margaret did not recognise any particular obstacle.

At 9:30 am we showed up at the box office and asked if any tour spots had opened up. None had. Margaret walked out the door and began questioning people sitting on rock walls and benches waiting for the tour to begin, “Hi! Do you have any extra tickets?” Can you believe it: after asking her third group of people, a woman nearby overheard and came over to tell us that her daughter could not come and would soon be returning two tickets and she would not accept payment for them. Viola! Margaret waited and sure enough, soon she had the other woman’s tickets. She took those into the box office and asked to get them converted to our names. Margaret was told she couldn’t use them because 1) we are not members and 2) these are special tickets for handicapped people anyway.

My ballsy friend met me outside with all the other waiting people who were now queuing up at the doors of the Thomas Theatre, where the tour would begin. “Just get in line,” she says to me, conspiratorially. As we arrived at the door, the man taking tickets burst out laughing at something someone behind him had said. Still chuckling, he took our tickets and added them to his growing stack of tickets, and joked to us about the funny thing that happened. He then turned to the people in line behind us. He never even LOOKED at our tickets!

Boom. Backstage Tour. For free. Not members.

In the Thomas Theatre, we were told about the history of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and about the amazing versatility of Ashland’s newest theatre: the Thomas Theatre, in which every single seat can be moved and the audience and stage rearranged in any configuration you like. We were handed off to a second tour guide, actor Christopher Salazar, who asked us to call him Sal. We crossed the street to the Elizabethan Theatre and went underground to the tunnel connecting it to the adjacent Bowman Theatre. We sat in the Green Room and learned about the incredible choreography of making this festival happen. Think about it: typically when there is a play, it continues on the same stage daytime and evening, for months until the run is over. However! In Ashland, festival directors want visitors to be able to see every single play in 10 days, or to be able to choose from multiple options each day, no matter how short your visit. This season there are 10 separate productions using three stages. That means a complete breakdown and set up of the stage twice a day for two theatres and once a day for the other theatre. Wow. We then walked over to the Angus Bowman Theatre, named for the founder of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and Sal told us about his favourite part of OSF: the outreach productions into communities not able to participate in the festival itself.

Our final stop was backstage at the Elizabethan, an open air theatre, where Sal (currently an actor in multiple productions at the festival) described how many of the people are employed behind the scenes, stories about inspiration for costumes, economies for typical actors at OSF, and what it’s like to have to change from one character to another in less than a minute, while running from exit to entrance behind the scene, dropping pieces of costume onto the floor and pushing arms into clothing extended by waiting assistants.

The tour was fabulous! And highly recommended, even if you need to go the route of obtaining membership, followed by purchasing an available ticket.

Henry V, a good man

We lunched, then explored lovely Lithia Park that borders the theatres, before returning to the Thomas once more for our matinee show of Henry V. In the intimate Thomas Theatre, we recognised Sal right away in one of the five roles he plays in Henry V. He all but winked at us when he spotted us, only 15 feet away.

This was my first exposure to Henry V. I hadn’t even read it before. I learned long ago that it’s helpful to research prior to seeing a Shakespeare play for the first time, so I had crammed a little in the hotel room the night before. Basically the story tells the tale of King Henry V as he has just ascended the throne and no one is quite sure what kind of king he’ll be, especially considering his history as a carouser. He turns out to be a good king: strong, fair, and in multiple ways still a confused young man. His leadership is outstanding and he conquers France by sheer force of will, and finds his match in a woman.

Daniel Jose Molina is phenomenal as Henry. I understand now why the Henry V performances sold out so fast. Molina lets himself go so freely that I think for the first time I recognise, in hindsight, that every other actor I’ve seen has been holding back the tiniest bit. I was all in from the first scene. What really strikes me with this actor is his body language and facial expressions that go beyond flattering hyperbole I’ve heard before. This stuff is for real. Just watch his FACE, and somehow you know what’s in the character’s mind, and then…watch it change as the character has a new thought…and realize even before the next line is spoken, that the character has told you what he’s going to do and you’re right there in on it with him. What an extraordinary, personal way to be introduced to this typically massive play, in a small theatre with only 12 actors other than those in the ensemble. I was so close I could see the notch in his eyebrow: not sure if it’s from a scar, or is a bit of fashion.

I found Molina’s Instagram page and I’m following him now, because he (like my actor friend, Sheldon Best) is going to blow my mind periodically with his artistry, and I want to be there to see it.

My other favourite actor in Henry V is Rachel Crowl who was an understudy that stepped in for the original actor. Crowl acts in multiple roles but is most memorable and excellent as Pistol. I noticed her instantly, as she took the stage in the chorus as the play begins. I saw a person presenting as a woman but also reminding me of a man. Rachel plays multiple men’s roles, and as Pistol has a deep, gorgeous voice that cannot be mistaken for anything feminine. I am delighted and fascinated, and now have so many questions for some future transgender actor I meet: Are there additional layers of conflict compared to a gender normative person who plays a different gender? And also, is your transformation to play both male and female roles a more familiar task than many actors with the same challenge?Do you have more insight? Does this give you an advantage? Is everyone else jealous? haha

As soon as the lights came up, we slipped out of the theatre ahead of everyone else and got totally soaked in the rain as we hurried to the Jeep (glad I wasn’t in the Elizabethan just then). I gave M a ride back to the hotel to get her car. Then we hugged goodbye and hit I-5 going opposite directions.

{I’ll post soon to tell you all the other stuff we did.}

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