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  • Ednold

My Silley Trip 7/13/20

For the past four months I’ve done my best to stay away from everyone; staying home as much as possible, crossing the street when I see someone heading toward me on the sidewalk, and standing on the little spots on the floor at the supermarket. But I recently decided to take the whole social distancing thing to another level and head to one of the most remote places in northwest Oregon.

After reading the story about our local Moon Tree, one of our loyal readers suggested I make a trip to see the Giants. I have already seen the Giants in a couple of locations. I wasn’t around when they were playing at the Polo Grounds in Manhattan, but I saw them several times at Candlestick Park after they moved to the west coast. If you’ve ever wondered just how old Ednold is, I can tell you that I once saw Willie Mays play for the Giants at Candlestick. I also saw them a few years ago at Oracle Field, or whatever they’re calling their new stadium this season, and I would love to take another road trip if and when they ever start playing again.

As sometimes happens, when I took a second look at the correspondence I realized that I had completely gotten the wrong end of the stick. The suggestion wasn’t to see the Giants play baseball. It was to go to the Valley of the Giants and see the giant trees there. So, no baseball. Just trees. But the road trip idea still appealed to me and I started making my preparations for a different kind of spectacle closer to home.

For those unaware, the Valley of the Giants is a small area in the Coast range where enormous ancient stands of old growth forest have been placed out of bounds from the timber industry. The surrounding hillsides have all been logged over the past century, but the trees in the Valley have been preserved for us all to marvel at.

If you connected the dots from Newport to Lincoln City to Dallas to Corvallis and back to Newport, I would be heading right through the heart of that rectangle. There is a road to the Valley of the Giants. In fact, there are lots of them heading in that direction. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure of gravel logging roads in various states of repair. Some are dead-ends, some loop back on each other, and a couple would take me where I wanted to go. Most people choose to drive but, as you may know by now, Ednold is not most people. Actually, the choice to walk was made very easy by the fact that there’s no way I would trust The Bucket to get me there and back. And I wouldn’t want to litter the forest by, say, pushing it off the road into a deep ravine after it had breathed its last gasp of unleaded. The road runs through a patchwork of land owned by multiple corporations and government agencies, each with their own access policies and use restrictions. The Bureau of Land Management (the BLM, although today that acronym is used for more important things) assured me the Giants would be open and that I could camp on their property. I also contacted the private forest management company who owns the road I would be walking, but never heard back from them. Since they close the roads during fire season I would have to hope I didn’t encounter any closures.

While I would have preferred a weekday trip at a more leisurely pace, making this expedition on a weekend would mean not having to dodge log trucks along the way, so I had two days to get there and back. My road to the Giants would be taking me through the Siletz Basin and another point of interest: The site of the former town of Valsetz. From there my plan was to continue north, out of the basin along the Siletz River and see the Giants before turning and retracing my steps. I planned to walk up to the Valley, see the trees, and get as far back down the mountain as I could on the first day. If I hadn’t been eaten by a bear or cougar or bitten by a rabid bat or poisoned by a huge snake that slithered into my tent or fallen into the river and plunged over a towering waterfall onto a pile of jagged rocks or had a tree fall on me or succumbed to the botulism from a bad can of Beanee-Weenee or managed to get hopelessly lost in the maze of little roads, I’d get up the next morning and walk back down the mountain to Hoskins where Mrs. Ednold would be waiting. Punctuality has always been one of my strengths and I fully expected to meet her at the appointed time, but there’s no cell service up in the mountains and if I did encounter any difficulties she may have been sitting in her car for a while picturing that cougar, or that waterfall, or that can of Beanee-Weenee.

While a straight road would make the trip much shorter, logging roads are notoriously twisty and the round trip would be somewhat more than 50 miles, theoretically half of it uphill. A challenging distance, for sure, even for someone like Ednold who has spent the past few decades preparing for just such an occasion by increasing the fat stores in all parts of his body. Doable? Let me think back to some things I’ve read: Edward Weston (The Last Great Walk) walked from New York to San Francisco when he was 70 years old. He did it in 104 days averaging almost 40 miles a day. Not too shabby. But he had a support crew with him and spent a lot of nights in fancy hotels along the way. Rachel Joyce’s fictional Harold Fry walked over 600 miles in 87 days. By the time he had completed his pilgrimage his feet were bloody stumps held together by duct tape. Not an attractive prospect, but I’ve got a good pair of boots and it’s only two days so I was confident I could avoid the bloody stump thing. The Bataan Death March was a little longer but they had more than two days to complete it, and they had the added incentive of being killed if they didn’t. I would be making this trek without the assistance of a ruthless Japanese soldier watching to make sure I wasn’t lagging. On the other hand, I would get to eat and drink and rest along the way. And I haven’t been living in the jungle holding off an invading army for the past three months, surviving on tainted water and boot leather as I battled malaria or dysentery. So, I had that going for me. As a big bonus, if I actually completed the trip I wouldn’t have to be stuck in a POW camp where I would almost surely die an agonizing death in the coming months. And it’s not like I would be blazing my own trail or walking some primitive, half-constructed path. I’d be on an actual road the whole way. So, all things considered, I was pretty optimistic as I set out.

Mrs. Ednold agreed to wake up early and drop me off. My starting point was the community of Hoskins. Never more than a small village, Hoskins originally grew as an appendage to Fort Hoskins, Oregon’s first army post built in 1856 to keep peace between the new Siletz reservation and the settlers in the Willamette Valley. By the end of the Civil War nine years later it was realized that there was really no reason for the fort and it was closed down. Hoskins itself hung on and in the early 1900’s was home to the Cobbs and Mitchell sawmill which received logs cut from the surrounding hillsides. When Cobbs and Mitchell decided to start harvesting trees from the Siletz Basin 15 miles or so up into the Coast range, they needed to build a railroad to transport the lumber down the mountain. That railroad ran through Hoskins and some maintenance facilities and a small depot were added to the tiny settlement until log trucks made the railroad obsolete. There are still a few homes in the area but there isn’t much left of the village of Hoskins.

The road generally follows the route of the original railroad along the Luckiamute River up into the hills. The railroad was dismantled long ago but in places you can still see where the rails once laid. Luckiamute is the native word for someone who is fortunate but is unable to speak.  That’s a joke.  I don’t know what it means but nobody else does either, so I might be right after all.  The Luckiamute runs down out of the Siletz Basin and continues on past Hoskins to where its confluence with the Willamette is almost directly across from where the Santiam empties into the Willamette from the east between Albany and Salem.

Well, dangit. Just a few miles up the road, at the proper start of the mountain road, there was posted a small notice that, due to bridge construction, the Valley of the Giants could not be reached at this time. I could have stopped right there but there was still Valsetz to see and I was in the mood for walking. So I walked that road. And I walked some more. And I kept walking up that hill. After, at long last, crossing over the rim of the basin, the last few miles to Valsetz were refreshingly on a slight downslope. Hallelujah!

Cobbs and Mitchell’s decision to start harvesting timber from their land in the Siletz Basin also required the building of a new mill closer to the timber source. The post office was opened at the new site in 1920 and by 1922 the new mill was up and running. The company town eventually included housing for families as well as bachelor bunkhouses, a company store, a church, a school, and more. The naming of that new town is a particular sticking point for me. The word was an attempt by Cobbs and Mitchell to create a portmanteau of “Valley” and “Siletz”, as the mill would be located in the Siletz Valley and the new railroad would be known as the Valley and Siletz Railroad. Think about it for just a second. What name would you have come up with? For anyone to settle on the name Valsetz when the obvious choice would have been Silley was an ignominious blunder of historic proportions. If you see my preferred name for the town throughout the rest of this story please excuse me. I have trouble remembering that Mr. Cobbs and Mr. Mitchell could possibly have bungled that so badly.

A good perspective of the bowl of the Siletz Basin

The main street through Valsetz was, and still is, Cadillac Avenue, named for the Michigan hometown of Cobbs and Mitchell. The town was built on a narrow strip of land between the surrounding mountains and Valsetz Lake, the oversized mill pond the company created by damming the south fork of the Siletz River. The dam was removed in the late 80’s and now the lake is gone. A ghost lake, I suppose you could call it. Passing through the site of the former town, there is scant trace of what was a vibrant logging community for over sixty years.  A few concrete foundations are all that remain after Boise-Cascade, the owners since 1967, razed and burned everything back in 1984. I tried, as I was walking the few remaining streets looking for signs of the old town, to imagine a thriving community on that spot; people going to work or to school, buying groceries, doing the wash, and all of the other routines that go on in a neighborhood. It’s hard to do with so little evidence left of what it used to be. People call it a ghost town, and I guess it fits the definition: The economic basis for the town ceased when it became unprofitable to process the local timber at that site. But usually when I think of a ghost town I think of some primitive wild west outpost that was bypassed by the railroads, or an old mining town after the seam of ore had been picked clean. This took place in my own lifetime and there are still many around who spent much of their lives there. And there just aren't enough remnants of the town that, even with a lot of imagination, you can construct a mental picture of what had been. So, for me, the term “ghost town” in this context misses the mark.

Downtown Valsetz today.

The story of Valsetz is a good illustration of the perils of a town based on a single business.    Even few other “ghost towns” can claim to have relied on one, and only one, commercial enterprise.  As a company town, there were no privately owned stores or eateries to serve those passing through on their way to somewhere else.  There WAS nowhere else on that road.  There were a few visitors from outside who came for the scenery, or to fish in the lake (my parents drove us over the hill once for a picnic back in the day), but located at the dead end of a long, bumpy, dangerous road Valsetz would never be a big tourist destination.  With the exception of the post office there was no government presence of any kind to provide additional payroll dollars to the local economy. Specialization, not diversification, was the strength of Valsetz. The town and the business were essentially one and the same, and with the demise of its single raison d’etre the town became a victim of its own success.  The more efficient they became at cutting and processing trees, the faster their reason for existing disappeared. When the land became more valuable as a timber farm than a timber mill, Boise-Cascade pulled the plug.

Since this started as, and will hopefully be again one day, a football blog, it should also be mentioned that the young people of Valsetz did play sports. The baseball and basketball teams were competitive and the Valsetz High School Cougars made it all the way to the State Championship football game in the fall of 1983. After crushing St. Paul 6-2 in the 8-man semis, the Cougars lost the championship game to Cove, 76-8. But in what was to be

their final opportunity, they etched the Valsetz name in the record books forever, and as a reward for this accomplishment, a few weeks later the company announced that the mill would be closing and that all employees would need to find some other job in some other place.

This concrete foundation is one of the few traces left.

Perhaps the most memorable feature of Valsetz, and the one thing that has always stuck in my mind as well as the minds of many others, was their newspaper editor in the years leading up to World War II. Many of you may have heard of the fourth-grader who decided the town needed a newspaper and set about editing the Valsetz Star herself. Dorothy Anne Hobson achieved national fame as the staunch Republican editor whose news from the town made its way all over the world. If you haven’t read her book (The Valsetz Star) or Ron Fowler’s more recent book about her (The Valsetz Star 2000) then do yourself that favor. Written over the four years leading up to World War II, the Star showcased a young writer/editor whose wit and sagacity belied her age. The daughter of the Valsetz dining hall's head cook and manager, Dorothy’s relentless optimism, idealism, and humor were a refreshing addition to more orthodox journalism as the Great Depression led up to a world at war.

What even I didn’t know until recently was that she was the mother of someone I had gone to school with. For years Dorothy lived in the same little town where I went to school and, though her son, Fritz, and I were not close friends, I knew who he was but had no idea that his mother was none other than Dorothy of Valsetz Star fame. I recently spoke with Fritz and we talked about his mom and her life. He said she had suffered some health issues at a relatively young age but through it all was able to maintain that positivity and sense of humor that she had shown earlier in life. She remained active in her beloved Republican party but lived long enough to approve of her son’s decision to work for Democratic senator Ron Wyden.

Though those in her circle of friends were aware of her childhood fame, she was not overly conspicuous in our community and certainly didn’t go around advertising her importance. This was someone who at one time was known to the Roosevelts. She had received letters from Herbert Hoover, dined at vice-presidential candidate Charley McNary’s home, been a special guest of the Rose Festival and flown to Los Angeles to appear on radio shows. Shirley Temple had been a subscriber to her newspaper and she had received correspondence from fans all over the world. Many people, Ednold included, experiencing that kind of success at a young age would have spent the rest of their lives asking people “Do you know who I am? Are you aware to whom you’re speaking?” If Dorothy had done that I would have known that she lived in our town. I wouldn’t have gone past her house a thousand times without knowing there was a national treasure inside. So you can add humility to her list of attributes.

Dorothy Anne Hobson in Valsetz.

After studying political science at Willamette University, Dorothy didn’t pursue a professional career in a related field. When asked, Fritz found it hard to speculate on how different his mother’s life would have been had she been born several decades later. So, I’ll do the speculating: In a world where more doors opened more easily for women she would have been hugely successful in a way that would have relegated her work on the Star to a mere footnote in her life story. Not in any way to diminish what she accomplished in her life, but she may be the perfect poster child for equal opportunities for all.

Since learning of her story several years ago Dorothy Anne has been an inspiration to me and she is probably partly responsible for me writing this little blog. So I asked Fritz what message we could all take away from her story. What one thing would she like us all to know? The response was not straight-forward, but he managed to boil it down to two main things. The first is the necessity of a good sense of humor. Whether contemplating the threat from Hitler or managing her infirmities later in life, Dorothy relied on humor to get her through without complaint. The other thing is that we Oregonians are special. Although Oregon isn’t as quirky as it may once have been, it’s still a unique place with unique people known for their perseverance. It’s the type of place where if someone wants their town to have a newspaper they don’t wait around for someone else to do it. Though his mother’s life was sometimes difficult, Fritz said that her identity as someone whose family had been in Oregon since the 1840’s gave her a strength and persistence that served her well. So, there you go. Not straight from the horse’s mouth but from that of her son, which is the best I could do. Thank you, Fritz. (And thanks for the picture I stole off the internet, which I assume is yours).

The Siletz Basin is so called because it’s like a giant bowl in the middle of the Coast Range. The bowl has one crack on the north side where the Siletz River starts its passage to the Pacific, and another crack on the southeast side where the Luckiamute River runs to the Willamette. It’s one of the wettest places on earth, at times surpassing 200 inches of annual rainfall. Add to that the difficult access in or out and you’ll understand why it wasn’t the most desirable of locations for settlers. But on a perfect summer day like I had it is incredibly beautiful and if you wonder what the town of Valsetz was like and whether the former residents miss the community they once called home, check out this video by Deborah Lynn Delaney. It’s an amazingly good original song that tells the story of Valsetz, but if you’ve spent time in any small town I think you’ll find the images look pretty familiar. Just different faces.

According to my sources the Siletz Basin is predominantly full of Douglas fir and hemlock trees.  I don’t know my trees very well, but I do know that Socrates died from drinking hemlock.  It can’t be the same thing, can it?  Just to be safe I won’t be drinking any trees on this trip, but if it’s not the same thing why do they have the same name?  There are 26 letters in the alphabet.  For a seven-letter word that means there are over 8 billion possible combinations you could come up with.  And they had to use one that was already used for a poison?  I’m telling you, this world makes no sense.  So I pulled up a random word generator and asked for a new 7-letter word. The new word for the hemlock tree is now reptoem. The Siletz Basin is now full of Douglas Fir and Reptoem trees. But I digress.

Before checking out the Valsetz townsite I had set up my camp and had a pretty comfy spot to spend the night. But when I came back, having seen everything I could see, it was still only mid-day and I realized that if I started walking home I could sleep in my own bed that night. At about the same time, I realized that my feet were starting to hurt and I didn’t really feel like walking another 15 miles with a pack on my back. But they weren’t likely to feel much better in the morning so I packed everything back up and started my return trip.

I had been kind of looking forward to the walk back because it would be mostly downhill. That was until I realized that the road had been engineered by M.C. Escher. I swear to you it is the only road in the world that is uphill both ways. Don’t ask me how it’s possible. It just is. And there was nothing entertaining about it. And as nice as it is to be away from the din of civilization, it can eventually start to get to you. With my back aching from the pack and my feet trying to tell me they were in pain from a cause I was afraid to even think about, I tried to occupy my mind by… singing.

Then I started wondering what effect that would have on the wildlife that I knew was watching my every step from the shadows. Would certain songs attract or repel that hungry bear waiting around the next corner? Would he decide whether or not to eat me based on the quality of my Ray Charles impersonation? Or would he like something more up-tempo than Georgia On My Mind? And was him “liking” it a good thing or a bad thing? Would he get more aggressive or less? A lot of thought went into this. I finally settled on a lame Lowell George imitation, thinking that might be a little scary but entertaining at the same time. That bear would know I meant business but in a nice, laid-back way. OK. Stay with me for a minute while we take a short detour. Ever come across a piece of information that just makes it seem like all the pieces finally fit together? Like there really is some kind of order to the universe? The late Mr. George was the leader of Little Feat before his untimely death. I read not long ago that Elvis Costello had missed the birth of his first child. Why? He had tickets to a Little Feat concert! He was/is a HUGE Little Feat fan! Me too. But my children would have grown up fatherless if I’d showed up the next morning with that excuse. Thus were the things that went through my mind in an effort to keep it off of how miserable I felt.

Then I discovered that sometimes you don’t get to choose which song you sing. The song picks you. Or maybe, since I was pretty sure a few of my vertebrae were out of place and my feet were being stabbed with ice picks with every step I took, it prompted the memory of a song I’d thought I’d forgotten. Whatever the cause, Da Butt made an appearance in my head and on my lips. That’s actually not as sick as it sounds. Those of a certain age may remember Da Butt as a short-lived dance craze many years ago. According to the lyrics “It’s a physical thing, but not hard to do. You just shake-a shake shake, shake-a shake shake, and do Da Butt the whole night through.” Even I can do that, though I found it difficult in the state I was in at the time. I haven’t heard the song in a while but it’s one of those that will never go out of style. So the bears got to hear Da Butt many times and it's possible that I owe my survival to the fact that they particularly enjoyed the “Owww. Sexy, sexy” part which is repeated throughout the song. And if any of those bears, (or any of you) were curious about how long it’s ok to do Da Butt for, now they know: Ain’t nothin’ wrong if you wanna do Da Butt all night long.

After many hours of my body, and probably the bears, pleading with me to stop, I finally arrived at our Hoskins rendezvous only to realize that there was no phone service out there and Mrs. Ednold wasn’t expecting me home until the next day. But a very kind couple offered me a ride in their Jeep, and I was welcomed inside by a huge cloud of pot smoke. I felt like I was in a Cheech & Chong movie for the 5-minute ride to a place where my phone worked, but I don't think it did me any harm. Famished, parched and dead tired, I made that call, lay down on the grass beside the highway, and waited awhile. When Mrs. Ednold showed up I was eventually able to stand up and hobble to the car. Let me paraphrase our conversation as she put the car in Drive and headed home:

Mrs. Ednold: “Can I have them now, or do I have to wait?”

Me: “Can you have what?”

Mrs Ednold: ”Come on. Do you think I can’t smell them?”

Me: “Smell what? I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Mrs. Ednold: “I know you have some roses for me. The whole car took on the aroma of a flower shop as soon as you got in."

I don’t remember the exact words but it was something like that.

Covered with blisters and with a few less toenails than when I started, my feet still resemble Harold Fry’s bloody stumps, and I won’t be doing any more marathon hiking any time soon, but I’ve seen Valsetz and I’m still looking forward to seeing the Giants one of these days. Someday I’ll take another Silley trip. With Mrs. Ednold in a comfortable car.

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Jul 19, 2020

Great story, Marc. Maybe the best kind of camping is the kind where you just go back before dark.


Jul 13, 2020

You never cease to amaze me. I really enjoyed visiting Silley through your eyes. I didn't know Fritz had such a famous mother and I'd never heard of De Butt. Sorry about your feet

but so glad you made the trip. It was great.


Jul 13, 2020

So you've been to Silley and back. I think I believe that.....especially since you came back smelling like roses........or something.

Still, you've done it entertaining blending of history and adventure, with a questionable musical accompaniment, complete with bloody feet. And thanks for mentioning Valsetz' athletic success. I say that as one who once hitch-hiked there to see one of their games.

Finally, we'll be waiting to hear if the Giants are as Gigantic as advertised.

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