What Heaven Looks Like?

EUGENE, Oregon – Not sure how we got here. A plane is a real possibility, for I can’t seem to find my car anywhere.

My son Smartacus and I are here at the University of Trees for a rigorous day-long orientation. Totally worth the trip, the freshman orientation is full of ice breakers and lots of forced fun that the kids mocked later in the day, as they unwound in the lobby after the sessions ended.

“OK, one fun fact about me?” said one young woman. “My first boyfriend was a Nazi.”

Sure, maybe it was funnier in the context of the incoming freshmen finally kicking free of the structured orientation exercises. At that point, they were being honest and funny.

Then they all went for ice cream. Mission accomplished. Go Duckies! “Gather ye rosebuds,” as the poets say.

From what I can tell, Smartacus has picked a fine school — proud, not prideful, with no snooty pretenses. That’s rare these days.

The setting is leafy and grand; edgy architecture mixed with the crusty brick buildings that I prefer.

Each day, a little more mortar falls from my joints. So I can relate to these old buildings, while contemporary architecture – like these kids – seems awkward and without texture, not yet burnished by the vagaries of life.

Me, I prefer a building with a 5 o’clock shadow.

But Lord, how I loved watching our teen-agers mill about waiting for the welcome session, eyes on their phones, texting friends back home: “I hate this already. HELP!” Stuff like that.

Once things got going, the body language eased. The orientation director was that one thing campus officials never seem to be: real.

She welcomed the students and parents with the custom boilerplate, then launched into a personal story about her own awkwardness as a freshman. To this day, she said, she hates chit-chat.

“Walk-off home run,” I thought to myself when she finished, and I’m pretty tough on speeches. Like the kids, I know that most talks, in the vernacular of today, kinda suck.

I’ve never met a college campus I didn’t love – the ivy, the idealism, the aura, the opportunity. On one kiosk, a flyer seeks staffers for an alternative paper called: “My Brain Is Vomiting.” 

I suggested that might be a worthy publication for Smartacus. I mean, the staff meetings alone have to be something to behold. And how great would “Sports editor, My Brain is Vomiting, 2021-2022” look on his resume?

Anyway, the parents knocked about campus as the kids enjoyed the tours and bonding sessions. We kicked the tires, wondering if we would get our money’s worth out of this giant castle complex. More and more, college seems such a ripoff.

But I’d say yes, Smartacus has picked an excellent school. I am happy for him, and for me.

He moves in Sept. 23. I move in the 24th. Shhhh, please don’t tell him. Better if it’s a surprise.

“We keep them children for too long,” grumbled the writer Pearl S. Buck.

And what’s so wrong with that?

After orientation, my sis drove down from her place in Portland. In a couple of hours, we reach the coast, where the sunset looks like the Sunday school version of Heaven.

Evidently, there are two Pacific Oceans, because this one looks nothing like the one back home.

This Pacific Ocean dresses in layers, like a French cabaret singer with a drinking problem. It has waves atop waves. They break and break again, then break a third time before slobbering to the sand.

On the horizon, a puddle of sun. God’s hot tub, no doubt, though I have no confirmation of that. Just a hunch.

Oregon is showing off for us; moody, overcast, a hint of fall. A day made for big books and bulky sweaters. A sea mist settles in, then a pissile. In Oregon, there are 55 different settings for rain:

Mist, hiss, drizzle, pissile, vapor, squirt, slurp, spit…

Lately, I’ve been looking for new business opportunities where a heightened sense of romance is vital, and there aren’t a lot of numbers to analyze or fluids to measure. That would eliminate most executive positions, as well as being a brewmaster in New England, or some other coast full of old lighthouses.

But on a berm, near this washboard sea, I find this rundown beach cottage. The ghost of an old sea captain lives in the attic, no doubt, with Mrs. Muir and a bunch of their cats.

Admit it, guys, haven’t you always had “a thing” for Gene Tierney?

First, I’d fix the roof, then the plumbing, then thread in the new wiring. That should take no more than 25 years.

Then I’d write a weepy book about the experience, as Nicholas Sparks does, and as I finished the final flower box, the whole place would collapse, leaving only periwinkles and petunias stranded in mid-air, as per a cartoon.


“Too much mortar seeped from the bricks,” the building inspector would explain. “He shoulda started with himself.”

Still, a worthy project, right? Stay in the Pacific Northwest too long and you’re in real danger of morphing into a garden gnome, with cherub cheeks and a wad of weed in your hip pocket.

Obviously, that would be my ultimate goal. You know me.

If I fell short, I’d sell the dump and move into a nice new condo with Mrs. Muir and her cats.

As I learned in college, we’re allowed more than one dream.

Next: Digging for clams along the Oregon coast.

Sales of “Lavender in Your Lemonade” have jumped since I begged for your help a week or two ago, and t-shirt and cap sales are climbing too. Thank you for supporting this twisted little venture. I promise that a hike is coming soon, the sort of group therapy we could all use right now. Till then, be safe and keep in touch. For info on books, apparel and past columns, please go to ChrisErskineLA.com. Cheers

8 thoughts on “What Heaven Looks Like?

  1. I have always loved the Oregon coast. It is like no other. The headlands and boiler bays alternate in dizzying succession, and it seems as though there is a state park of one kind or another every mile or two (literally)…..And the little ocean towns, drenched in salt spray and crab shells, invariably with rivers running to the sea through or alongside them, many crowned with high arcing bridges that carry the coast road over a vast estuary leading to the wilding ocean……The long, lonely empty beaches, the big dunes here and there, the usual stark, isolated lighthouses, seeming from another age, the occasional fragrant logging truck careening down to a town through the trees in the misty late afternoon, reminding you of the grind of commerce that underlies this paradise. So unlike Maine, it’s the coast we’d like time to forget, but not really, for the occasional inns that necklace it’s shorelines glow with polished wooden comfort, products of the aura of the surroundings.And on and on. What a place. I’m a Neskowin guy, which is next to Cascade head, only place on the coast where, at certain times of the year, a waterfall wisps off a high headland into the sea; but there are countless other wonders everywhere near. I would have subtly lobbied for the school just to be, for cause, within striking distance of all this. A slam dunk.

  2. Did you miss us so much you couldn’t wait until Wednesday? Glad you posted such a poetic gem today. I am in the midst of packing for our Thursday move and I really needed this mental getaway to the beautiful Oregon coast. I have driven down it in the summer and enjoyed the “haystacks” rocks. You captured its beauty with your lovely prose and pretty pics….OK, my break is over. Back to packing.

      1. Thanks Chris! We had a smooth move and are happily ensconced in our new digs. The dogs love it too, and that’s what really matters, right? I hope Smartacus is settling in to his new home too! Lots of fun to be had!

  3. “Walk off home run” is what I had the pleasure of experiencing with my freshman orientation counselor at Southern Illinois University after she introduced us to the local nightclubs/bars. I’m sure this would not have happened if my dad accompanied me to orientation. That was just pure evil of you do to your son Chris – LOL.

  4. Sounds like Smartacus is adjusting nicely…and you are too. You described the Oregon coast with such detail..I closed my eyes and swear I was there. My college freshman flies to Italy next week for her semester abroad so no orientation for me! Just Kleenex.

Leave a Reply