Monday, July 1, 2013

Story: I.H.T.F.P. (I Have Truly Found Paradise)

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I. H. T. F. P. (I Have Truly Found Paradise)

from the book: Life Will Get You in the End:
Short stories by David Satterlee

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Life Will Get You in the End:
Short Stories by David Satterlee

Looking for the ideal place to live, our hero discovers that there is trouble in paradise. 

I. H. T. F. P. (I Have Truly Found Paradise)

Dear Friend,

For years I have been looking for an ideal place that combines mild climate with greater isolation and the company of like-minded people. The stress of life near a big city was making me hypersensitive, anxious, intolerant and hostile. People there are too loud, too fast, too filthy and too rude. I need to get away.

Several years ago, after careful research, decided that western North Carolina and the Pacific Northwest were generally good and had a lot of potential. Among other things, they both share surprising mild year-round climates. I visited the Appalachians and made an extended tour of the Rocky Mountains.

In the past few months, I have done additional research and begun to focus on southwest Oregon, specifically the Rogue River Valley from Ashland, Oregon to Grant’s Pass – all surrounded by forested mountains. Now, in this trip, I have been able to
look more closely and have found that the area is everything I expected and more.

Ashland is a small college town and attracts intellectuals, artists and craftspeople. High-speed fiber data communications is available in almost everywhere within the city limits. This is where I found so much help in dealing with my car problems on the Rocky Mountain tour.

Medford is a more typical medium-sized city. It is the commercial and industrial focus of the region. Major businesses include Kodak Medical Imaging and electronic fabricating companies. There are now fewer raw wood mills and more specialty wood product plants. It is a nice place for a high-tech handyman like myself, but I wouldn’t want to live there.

Further up-stream, nestled in a slightly higher valley is Grant’s Pass. This is a small, clean, well-organized city of 20,000. It seems to have one of everything except a Wal*Mart. The legs of its economy are retired refugees from California and tourists for river rafting, llama excursion and such.

All three towns are efficiently served by Interstate 5. But… head down twisting little Hwy. 238, wandering behind the hills between Medford and Grant’s Pass, and you find hidden jewels. A succession of tiny burghs, each with a small general store, guard the entrances to isolated valley enclaves rising gently into the mountains until reaching the nearby national forest.

One of these valleys hosts tiny Williams, Oregon where the general store has an ancient, well-worn hardwood floor and supplies largely organic foods to customers wearing natural fabrics. The women are mothers of the earth and the unshorn men smile easily and kindly. I thought, “I have truly found paradise.”

The fertile ground and mild weather supports abundant orchards and gardens. Over a dozen nearby farms supply medicinal herbs to Ed Smith’s “Herb Pharm,” a local business that employs about 75 people to manufacture medicinal herbal extracts, which are sold nationally to health food store and naturopathic doctors.

It was a Saturday and I was buying a bag of organic raw almonds at the general store. I asked the clerk where I could find Ed Smith’s Herb Pharm. The man next to me at the counter turned and introduced himself as Ed Smith; the owner himself. He agreed to chat briefly out on the porch. I told him about my trip and my herbal and technical background. He suggested that I introduce myself to Georgia, his 1-person human resources department.

I asked for and received permission to visit the property, look around, and enjoy the meditative herb garden I knew to be planted there. He didn’t hesitate to say yes.
Although the “Pharm” is 2 miles further up the road, the factory is a cluster of brown buildings on about 2 acres nestled against a wooded hill. The site is tidy. I actually went looking for litter and found only one wrapper corner and 1 cigarette butt. (And those were near the post of an outside gate, so maybe they don’t count.)

As I sat in Ed’s garden, watching the sun dutifully recede behind the nearby hills, the neighbor’s dog came and sat with me, quietly watching the birds come and go. I reflected on how blessed my trip had been. Serendipity had traveled with me so that I easily made good choices, met good people at the right time and felt increasingly at ease and joyful.

The next day, Sunday, I set out to explore the Williams area. I ordered the homemade apple pie at a cafĂ© a valley or 2 away and discovered that the waitress was from Williams and would be happy to answer questions. I observed that the folks I’d seen were different and asked “just how different?” She agreed that Williams was a haven for “back to the earth” types who formed a community that was fiercely independent while remaining tight-knit neighbors.

I had heard that a group of survivalists had settled in southwest Oregon. “Were there any places I shouldn’t go?” She was adamant that “No Trespassing” signs should be totally and unquestionably honored.

I told her about being an herbalist and was warned that there were periodic sweeps by government agents and that there were some disputes over the available supply of local hallucinogenic mushrooms so that neighbors sometimes got revenge by reporting each other to the government, factually or not. 

She had been very sweet. I thanked her for her kindness. Left a nice tip and left for a drive further up the road into the hills. Entering the national forest boundary, I stopped to read messages that had been spray painted across the road. Someone seemed to think that hippies were lowlifes. They didn’t seem to be too fond of muzzle loaders either. It was a lonely road and suddenly seemed a little too lonely. I turned back. Now, the “no trespassing” signs seemed more obvious and abundant. In fact, they were usually more detailed than seemed necessary. 

My crisis was unexpected. I had found paradise and people like me… and I wasn’t too sure that I liked them. 

Back in Grant’s Pass, I settled my nerves with a nice sit-down supper. I thought that I was feeling better until a waitress asked “Are you done?” and picked up my plate. I chewed for a while on the thought, “Why didn’t she say “Have you finished?” It was the difference between rude and cordial. Was I being hypersensitive again?

As I glowered, looked at my hands in front of me, out the windows, and at the other customers, I was struck by the thought that they were ALL white like me. All of them. In fact, I couldn’t remember seeing a single black man for 2 days.

All the nice people I had met no longer seemed quite so nice. The night mountain chill was colder for the sense of subtle hostility too deep and fundamental to confine in isolated focus.

Later, the evening news repeated variations on atrocities around the world. They were committed by hateful extremists who cluster together, keeping isolated, and who will never be happy until everyone on earth is like them.

The crisis is not out in plain view. I have found paradise and people like myself. I don’t think I like them. I’m not even sure I like myself.

I had to think long and hard about including this one. Anybody who lives in, or loves, Central Oregon is likely to take exception to some of the brutally direct emotional responses described in this piece.
First: so what? We’ve all got our resident loony neighbors. And you know what else? I’ve got a reputation as one of the looniest.
Second, the traveler is alone and lonely; he is ungrounded, and vulnerable. So, please give him a break.
Finally, this really is a great place to live. I have (obviously) visited there and found it appealing. And, I tell you truly, if the grandchildren were doing well, and I thought we could afford it, I would want to move there right away.
Peace, brothers.

p.s. Have you taken notice of all the volcanic activity out there? Some say it’s the wrath of God for all our sins. The whole place, clean out to Yellowstone, is gonna blow. We’re all gonna die.
There, that ought to help keep some outsiders away. You’re welcome.

Addendum (online only): I used to work out of the electric shop in a refinery. One of my co-workers had marked "I.H.T.F.P." on the back of his hard hat. One day, I asked what it meant and he told me, "I Have Truly Found Paradise." Another fellow laughed and informed me that it actually stood for, "I Hate This F-ing Place." "Oh," says I. 
Momma always said, "You ask a silly question, you get a silly answer." So, if you didn't already know, there it is. You're welcome. Daddy always said, "You dig deep enough, you'll find a pony in there somewhere." If you have to ask, you're on your own for that one.