Seven years ago I had the great mystical fortune to visit one of the truly remarkable places in Oregon: the Valley of the Giants in the central Coast Range. This hidden remnant of coastal old growth forest is located near the vanished logging company town of Valsetz.
It was a clear Saturday in May and I was accompanied by a former student of mine, who had suggested we make the journey into the mountains and see this place together. He had visited the Valley before and described it to me as a kind of Shanghai-La in the deep woods that somehow had been spared the killing from the saw and bulldozer. Knowing my love for all things uniquely Oregon, he said I simply must see it and he wanted to teach me something about Oregon. How could I refuse his expressed wish?
Joe was one of the more fascinating students of my career. He barely existed in a linear world and his essays were a mixture of happy surrealism and stream-of-consciousness that often had nothing to do with the assigned topic, at least that I could tell after reading them. Editing his essays was superfluous so I didn’t even bother.
He was on my newspaper staff and contributed a regular column. It extolled his personal philosophy, one that seemed completely undiluted by other creeds and texts. With a column, I told him, the writer must cultivate an audience, even a tiny one. He did his best and produced some work that was probably unprecedented in the annals of rural high school journalism in Oregon. He was also an accomplished poet and won the instant haiku slam with a series of performances that featured weird gesticulations.
Joe loved the outdoors perhaps more than any young person I ever taught. He slept on the beach; he fished after school; he surfed; he hiked in the woods.
He was a combination of Huck Finn, Jack Kerouac, and an elf standing watch over a a sacred glade. He loved Oregon with everything he had and planned on becoming an English teacher, or so he told me the last time we talked after I wrote him a recommendation in support of his application to intern as an interpretative ranger at the Yaquina Head Lighthouse. (He got the gig.)
I picked Joe up at his girlfriend’s house early in the morning. He got in the truck and announced he’d been up all night drinking beer with her. Thus, he claimed he was in perfect condition for adventure. I put the truck in gear and we were off to the Valley of the Giants. He was wearing a wool poncho right out of Pancho Villa.
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