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Round and Round and Round


Memaloose State Park
Hood River, Oregon

I came down from the mountains to the tawny desert along the Columbia River Sunday afternoon. Looking for a place to hole up for a few days. I'm getting way behind on my reading, and that makes me cranky. I'd been thinking of taking a couple of weeks' break from this journal, but then I start up again. It's sort of a smoothly functioning dysfunctional relationship, Wordsworth and me. Hard to read when I'm writing, though.

I lost my kayak cover again. Who knows where? BD noticed it missing back in Battle Ground. (You know, I never did find out what battle was on that ground.) Hood River, with all the river sports going on there, ought to be a place that can sell me a new cover. When I was almost there, however, instead of going straight across the river I turned east to investigate Doug's Beach State Park. I liked the informal quality of the name. Turned out to be just a spit of land across the railroad tracks, used for windsurfing launches and little else. Didn't even get to find out who Doug was.

Going along beside the tracks, I glimpsed a flash of color on the river, and pulled over to take several pictures of a guy skiing behind a red kite or parasail. He was really moving along, tacking down-river in the teeth of the usual Columbia gale. One of the ironies of the infamous wind here is that the Gorge is probably one of the world's premier sites for a Wind Farm to generate electrical power, but the omnipresent hydroelectric plants up and down the river make it economically redundant.

Just before crossing on the Dalles bridge, I saw a pair of COE parks on the east side. One had a couple of small lakes and free camping. The one motorhome present was in the process of leaving. It was utterly silent, except for the wind. There was this troubling sign warning of Swimmer's Itch, some sort of tiny worm parasite, but I didn't plan to go in the water anyway.

I had the place to myself for two hours. Delightful.

Then the Snopes turned up. Again. Oregon branch of the clan. These had a 1978 Ford pickup with no muffler. They were carrying a full sized refrigerator and a wheel chair back in the bed, along with a lumpy high pile of stuff under blue tarps. The trailer behind that was hail battered Prowler, about 24 feet long.

The immediately alarming thing, other than the noise, was that the trailer door was hanging wide open, banging back and forth. As they circled through, eyeing me and the small parking lot, I hollered out "Your door's open!" Grandma Snopes just waved and yelled back "That's all right!" I had to wonder how many miles they'd driven that way.

Finally they circled clear around and parked behind me. Turned that motor off. Whew. Four of them piled out of the unfortunate Ford, and they set to pulling out folding chairs. The kids headed for the toilet like it was the Promised Land.

Maybe it wouldn't be so bad, as long as they didn't start up the truck again. About 5 minutes later, Junior Snopes, the one with the tatoos, cranked up his tunes on the stereo. Sigh. Fortunately, I had never unhooked the trailer. In 5 more minutes I was on my way out.

Which is how I discovered Memaloose State Park, right next to the rest area east of Hood River. This is a calm, clean facility, with full hookups galore, and right next to the river. Twelve bucks, if you don't need electricity. The view of the river is grand, and the highway not too noisy. The railroad made up for it, but only a couple of times during the night. I settled in. Washed my truck and trailer. Built a fire. Watched the barges rumbling up and down the river. Went into Hood River for a beer.

When I took the Hwy 35 exit into the Hood, I saw something that combined two of my few remaining passions: an RV turned into a Thai Kitchen. The couple had completely gutted a 19 foot Terry trailer and neatly outfitted it with stoves and refrigerators. Had the Snopes beat all hollow. They were making a busy living out of the thing. I had the Ginger Curry Chicken. Mmmmmm.

I looked up an old camping acquaintance in Hood River. A couple of years ago Hans and I got inadvertently drunk in a county park south of Tillamook. Sand Island, perhaps. Something like that. A naturalized citizen and a native of Hamburg by way of Melbourne, Hans had the most peculiar German-Australian accent. He was impressed that I not only knew what Schnapps was, but actually had a bottle. Things proceeded from there, until the wee hours. I couldn't see him very well the next morning, and haven't seen him since.

We met for breakfast on Monday, then went to his house. He has a truck camper, and the unit is raised on one of the most impressively strong and safe looking systems I have seen. A rectangular cage of steel tubing lowers by four electric motors to the ground, and you drive out from underneath it. When on the truck, the unit is clamped to the frame by the same framework. Rock solid. Since the two sides are connected, I'm not sure how it does on uneven ground. I forgot to ask. Hans spends much of the winter in Yuma in some sort of RV Chalet he's built there. He calls it his "partial residence."

On Tuesday morning I went back in to town to check out something I'd seen the day before, the International Museum of Carousel Art. I usually don't write gushing accounts of the carny type sideshows you find along the road. Like the Rattlesnake Farm. There's plenty who do that. But this thing was intriguing. Five thousand square feet and 119 items in an old bank building, open every day from 11 to 3. Nice old clock on the building. Inside were carved and painted wooden figures from carousel rides, dating from twenty years either side of 1900. Many horses, of course, but also chickens, dragons, dogs, pigs, tigers, household cats, giraffes, you name it. If a kid ever rode round and round on it, it's probably here somewhere.

They advertise a complete English Carousel, but it's on loan at present.

"You hardly ever see an intact carousel any more," she said. "There's too much money to be made parting it out."

"How much money?"

"Oh, millions. Maybe 4 or 5 million dollars."

Wow. I haven't got a collector's mentality, and never have. I don't even collect my wits very well. But there was an undeniable appeal and general lack of slickness in these old commercial, even primitive, works of art. Some were obviously weathered and cracked, telling a poignant story of past neglect. And rediscovery. Each was imaginatively carved to give delight to a child. The eyes some of the horses, especially, are cocked to stare directly down into the heart of a person about 3 feet high in cowboy boots.

None are deliberately scary, though the life-sized tiger might give a little pause, that and the cat with the dead bird in it's mouth. Remember that these come from an age before cartoons, when fairy tales were Grimm, and gingerbread houses hid real witches inside.

Calliope music rang softly throughout the building. I don't believe I'm old enough to have ridden on any of these. I have little memory of carousels. But this place has me wishing I did.

Round and round and round and round...

Hold on tight, now.


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