The Lisa & Clark Expedition: Old Places and Familiar Faces, a West Coast Road Trip.
In which intrepid road trippers Lisa & Clark go in pursuit of historic hotels, old friends, rusty auto parts (the more the better), wineries, and gardens. And maybe a dress or two for Lisa, because she just can’t help herself.
Looking for the beginning of the trip? Start here.
Tuesday, June 5
Susanville, CA to Bend, Oregon; 327 miles
We woke to snow on the hills, but the valley was clear. Came down to breakfast — sausages, French toast, fruit, muffins, a pot of coffee we could hog since our fellow guests weren’t yet up — and shared chatty greetings with our hosts, who throughout the meal popped in and out of the kitchen, carefully treading the line of being attentive without being intrusive.
During our intermittent chats, it came out that Charmaine’s niece is Young Adult author Holly Cupala… with whom I did a book signing at Mockingbird Books last year, when Wake Unto Me came out. From the kitchen I hear Richard’s deep voice:
“Well, it’s a damn small world, isn’t it?”
Now Charmaine asks what type of name Cach is, and I say Czech.
“Czech! Of course! When we were in Prague, there were redheads everywhere! I’ve never seen so many redheads, outside of Ireland. That’s where your red hair comes from, you’re Czech!” And she showed me the photo of her grandkids with all their brilliant red hair.
Impossible now to mention that I’m a blonde and the red hair is fake. It would embarrass her, it would embarrass me; impossible. Oh god, let the topic of red hair end! (If you read this, Charmaine, I’m so sorry.)
Then, behind all the red hair, is the impossible truth of Cach not being my biological name, if such a thing as a biological name exists; I was adopted, and my dad’s family was Czech. But. My biological father is half Czech, too. So although Cach is not my ‘biological’ name, it is still the correct heritage. My biological father’s name, in the meantime, is not his biological family name, either… His father was abandoned on a street corner at the age of six, and took the name of the kindly neighbor man who took him in and raised him.
As Juliet so famously asked, “What’s in a name?” Red hair, family names… so much identity that gets wrapped up in these things that are so easily changed.
Does heritage matter? Doesn’t seem to. I think it’s like astrological signs: you pay attention to the parts that appear to fit you (or who you want to see yourself as being) and ignore the rest. I’ve always gotten my sense of identity from the things I’ve done; the things I do and enjoy; the people I love – both friends and family – and the roles I play in their lives; and inevitably from what people have told me about myself as well as how they’ve treated me (much as I might want to pretend otherwise). And, too, I get my identity from the culture I grew up in — the outdoorsy Pacific Northwest, where we had sheep and chickens and spent half the summer swimming in a pond my dad built in the woods. The other half of the summer we spent at a cabin on the water up near Canada, digging for clams and playing on the mudflats. You wouldn’t think that digging for clams was part of my identity, but strangely, it is.
Why am I talking so much about this? You’ll see in a bit.
(An interesting side note: an article in The Atlantic explains how, “…everyone in the world is descended from Nefertiti and Confucius, and everyone of European ancestry is descended from Muhammad and Charlemagne.” So we’re all cousins anyway.)
Back in the car, pointing the hood north. Leaving Susanville we climbed into the mountains, elevation around 5,000 feet at the highest. Again, snow, but not nerve-wracking this time, as the skies were bright and the snow so obviously a light dusting that wasn’t going to stick around.
The drive was pretty for a couple hours, but after we descended to the flats near the Oregon/California border, the scenery got tame.
I’d thrown this audio book into the mix as a lark, assuming it would be something we’d laugh over for a few minutes, then discard for more entertaining fare. To our surprise, it’s a delight, full of purposefully bombastic musings that contain unexpected wisdom.
The primary William Shatner rule is: Say yes. When you have an opportunity to do something, say yes, because you never know where it might lead. It might not lead to something good for decades, or it might never lead anywhere, but you’ll never know unless you say yes. As he put it, “Saying no closes doors, but saying yes kicks them wide open.”
We also love his stories of gross humiliation and failure, not only because they’re funny (Johnny Carson mouthing, “What the f***” after Shatner’s Tonight Show performance of a junkie singing Tambourine Man), but because they are reassurance that you can fail and still go on, and still be successful; and even better, sometimes those failures eventually lead to good things. Not always. And there may be a lot of emotional pain in the meantime. But still.
Two stops, midday:
A cafe I’d read about online near Tulelake, called Captain Jack’s Stronghold — named after a Native American leader of the Modoc indians (his real name was Kintpuash), whose band of 51 defeated 329 army men and volunteers, using the natural fortress of lava rocks near there — the ‘stronghold.’ Reinforcements for the army eventually meant the dispersal of Captain Jack’s band, and Captain Jack getting hung. The cafe was supposed to be the best food for tens of miles in either direction, which unfortunately was not saying a lot. But, nice waitress, and it was food.
Next stop was a few miles away, cutting west on route 161 to take a look at the Lower Klamath Lake Wildlife Refuge. Marshlands and lake, and thousands of birds. It was only a brief stop as it was cold and breezy, and if you’re not a birder it’s not so intriguing. But, the thousands of birds out on the marsh made a wonderful whistling sound (some type of wood duck, maybe?), unlike anything I’ve heard before. Once upon a time, were such sights and sounds common in the US?
We arrived in Bend around 4:30, and as we wound through the neighborhood toward our destination, we put Shatner on hold and had about a minute and a half to address the issue that I was a little worried that our upcoming stay in Bend might be awkward and uncomfortable. You see, we were going to spend three nights staying with my biological father, Bill.
Bill tracked me down through the adoption agency when I was in my early 20s. He’s a very nice man who (at the time) had only ever lived about 15 miles away from where I grew up, but I’ve always felt kind of weird about having him in my life. My parents and I were very close, and none of us wanted another Lisa-parent-figure coming into that relationship. My mom used to tell me how when my brother and I were little, they had contingency plans for if any biological figure tried to come take us away: they would abandon their lives and flee with us to Australia.
While some people seem to have a tough time with knowing they were adopted, I’ve always been delighted. I felt like there were no expectations for who I would grow up to be — no one could say I got trait X or Y from so-and-so — and, when there were relatives I didn’t like or I saw a family vulnerability to disease, I was relieved not to share those genes. As my aunt Rhoda told me recently, “You always were an independent little thing.” What better for an independent little thing than to have the security of deeply loving parents, coupled with freedom from preconceived notions of who you would become? (And yeah, they were both pretty surprised to get a romance novelist!)
Both my parents are gone now, though, and have been for several years. Spending time with Bill wouldn’t be betraying anyone.
Bill and I have stayed in touch via email, and once every couple of years we’ve had lunch or dinner together. Never, though, had I spent more than a couple hours in his company, and I never let him meet any of my family except for Clark. When I told him Clark and I would be taking a road trip that would pass through Bend, he invited us to stay with him and his wife. Perhaps I was already channeling William Shatner, because I thought, “Oh what the hell. Say yes.”
So now we were arriving on his front doorstep. How on earth was this going to go? Was it a good idea, or a terrible one?
Too late for those questions now.
More of the Lisa & Clark Expedition:
Who are Lisa & Clark?
Lisa’s latest novel,
Great-Aunt Sophia’s Lessons for Bombshells, from Simon & Schuster