The Last Colors of Fall… At Home in Southern Oregon

View from Curtis and Peggy Mekemson's patio in southern Oregon.

A view from the patio. Our white oaks provide a dash of golden orange to set off the green forests and blue mountains.

Several years ago Peggy and I were in the middle of a year off when we were treated to most of what America has to offer in fall’s brilliant display of leaves changing color. We began our adventure in late August. Our trip had taken us into Alaska and the weather was changing. The geese were getting restless, preparing for their journey south. We decided to migrate as well. Since our next scheduled stop was in Florida for Thanksgiving, we had three months to wander.

Our route took us down through the Yukon Territory and into British Columbia’s impressive national parks of Jasper and Banff in the northern Rockies. We then made our way east through Alberta and Saskatchewan, dropped down into North Dakota, and then traveled through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. We arrived in the New England states of Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine at the height of leaf peeping season. We then journeyed south through the Mid-Atlantic States into the Blue Ridge Mountains. The trees were spectacular the whole way. We were following fall, so to speak.

Photo by Curtis mekemson

Fall in the Rockies. I took this photo on the western side of the mountains in Colorado.

Fall photp of Blue Ridge Highway by Curtis Mekemson.

Fall along the Blue Ridge Highway.

Fall photo of Blue Ridge Mountains by Curtis Mekemson.

Fall view looking out on Blue Ridge Mountains.

Our rather mild weather in Southern Oregon doesn’t produce the magnificent colors of New England, but we get a decent showing. I kept promising myself I would get out and take photos but writing and procrastination interfered. When I finally managed to be out and about with my camera, there were more leaves on the ground than in the trees. I was left with the last colors of fall, but they were still impressive.

Southern oregon fall photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Trails snaking through our five acres are named after our grandsons. Connor’s Cutoff, hidden under leaves, does a good job of capturing fall colors.

Southern Oregon fall photo by Curtis Mekemson.

This photo follows our road down the hill and past the white oaks.

Oregon Maple photo by Curtis Mekemson.

An Oregon Maple adds a touch of yellow to our yard.

Photo of Oregon Maple by Curtis Mekemson.

A close up of the Oregon Maple. I like the contrast provided by the dark limbs.

These red berries decorated a neighbors yard. As I recall from my youth in California, we called them California Holly.

These red berries decorated a neighbor’s yard. As I recall from my youth in California, we called them California Holly.

Photo along Upper Applegate Road in Southern Oregon by Curtis Mekemson.

Our drive into the town of Jacksonville, Oregon provided more fall views.

Photo of fall view on Upper Applegate Road in Southern Oregon by Curtis Mekemson.

Another view along Upper Applegate Road on our way into Jacksonville.

Fall photo of the Applegate River by Curtis Mekemson.

Our property fronts on the beautiful Applegate River. I took this photo on one of the bridges across the river on Upper Applegate Road.

NEXT BLOG: We will visit one of America’s premier parks (where I happen to be as I type this), Pt. Reyes National Seashore, north of San Francisco, California.







The Attack of the Graveyard Ghost… Happy Halloween


It's that time of the year when my sister and I get together with my wife Peggy and Nancy's husband Jim for our annual pumpkin carving contest.

It’s that time of the year when ghoul

I had lunch with my sister Nancy and her husband Jim yesterday. With Halloween a day away, my thoughts turned to the the Graveyard we grew up next to. While my brother Marshall and I had a healthy respect for its inhabitants, my sister Nancy Jo’s fear of dead people bordered on monumental. This tale relates to her encounter with the Graveyard Ghost as a teenage girl. I trot it out every couple of years for Halloween on my blog, so you may have read it before.

My sister was seven years older than I and lived on a different planet, the mysterious world of teenage girls. Her concern about ghosts makes this story a powerful testimony to teenage hormones. It begins with Nancy falling in ‘love’ with the ‘boy’ next door, Johnny.

Johnny’s parents were good folks from a kids’ perspective. Marshall and I raided their apple trees with impunity and Mama, a big Italian lady, made great spaghetti. I was fascinated with the way she yelled “Bullll Sheeeet” in a community-wide voice when she was whipping Papa into line. He was a skinny, Old Country type of guy who thought he should be in charge.

I use the terms love and boy somewhat loosely since Nancy at 15 was a little young for love and Johnny, a 22-year-old Korean War Veteran, was a little old for the boy designation, not to mention Nancy. Our parents were not happy, a fact that only seemed to encourage my sister.

Her teenage hormones aided by a healthy dose of rebellion overcame her good sense and she pursued the budding relationship. Johnny didn’t make it easy. His idea of a special date was to drive down the alley and honk. Otherwise, he avoided our place. If Nancy wanted to see him, she had to visit his home.

It should have been easy; his house was right behind ours. But there was a major obstacle, the dreaded Graveyard.

Nancy had to climb over the fence or walk up the alley past the Graveyard to visit. Given her feelings about dead people, the solution seemed easy… climb the fence. Marsh and I had been over many times in search of apples. Something about teenage girl dignity I didn’t understand eliminated fence climbing, however.

Nancy was left up the alley without an escort.

While she wasn’t above sneaking out of the house, Nancy asked permission to see Johnny the night of the Graveyard Ghost attack. She approached Mother around seven. It was one of those warm summer evenings where the sun is reluctant to go down and boys are granted special permission to stay up. Marshall and I listened intently.

“Mother, I think I’ll go visit Johnny,” Nancy stated and asked in the same sentence. Careful maneuvering was required. An outright statement would have triggered a parental prerogative no and an outright question may have solicited a parental concern no.

Silence. This communicated disapproval, a possible no, and a tad of punishment for raising the issue.

“Mother?” We were on the edge of an impending teenage tantrum. Nancy could throw a good one.

“OK” with weary resignation followed by, “but you have to be home by ten.”

What we heard was TEN. Translate after dark. Nancy would be coming down the alley past the Graveyard in the dark and she would be scared. Knowing Johnny’s desire to avoid my parents, we figured she would also be alone. A fiendish plot was hatched.

At 9:45 Marsh and I slipped outside and made our way up the alley to a point half way between our house and Johnny’s. Next we took a few steps into Graveyard where weed-like Heavenly Trees and deep Myrtle provided perfect cover. Hiding there at night was scary but Marshall and I were operating under inspiration.

Marsh stripped the limbs off of one of the young trees, bent it over like a catapult, and draped his white T-shirt on the trunk. We then scrunched down and waited.

At exactly ten, Nancy opened the back door and stepped outside with Johnny. Our hearts skipped a beat. Would he walk her home? No. After a perfunctory goodnight, Johnny dutifully went back inside and one very alone sister began her hesitant but fateful walk down the alley.

She approached slowly, desperately looking the other direction to avoid seeing tombstones and keeping as far from the Graveyard as the alley and fence allowed. At exactly the right moment, we struck. Marshall let go of the T-shirt and the supple Heavenly Tree whipped it into the air. It arched up over the alley and floated down in front of our already frightened sister. We started woooooing wildly.

Did Nancy streak down the alley to the safety of the House? No. Did she figure out her two little brothers were playing a trick and commit murder? No. Absolute hysteria ensued. She stood still and screamed. She was feet stuck to the ground petrified except for her lungs and mouth; they worked fine.

As her voice hit opera pitch, we realized that our prank was not going as planned. Nancy was not having fun. We leapt out to remedy the problem.

Bad idea.

Two bodies hurtling at you out of a graveyard in the dark of night is not a recommended solution for frayed nerves and intense fear of dead people. The three of us, Nancy bawling and Marshall and I worrying about consequences, proceeded to the house. As I recall, our parents were not impressed with our concept of evening entertainment. I suspect they laughed after we went to bed. Sixty years later, Nancy, Marshall and I still are.

One of many pumpkins we have carved over the years.

One of many pumpkins we have carved over the years.

NEXT BLOG: Beautiful fall colors are surrounding our home on the Upper Applegate River in Southern Oregon. I will take you on a tour.

Jacksonville, Oregon: A Gold Rush Kind of Town

Historic buildings in Jacksonville, Oregon

The gold rush era buildings in Jacksonville, Oregon have been preserved by the community.

Peggy and I discovered Jacksonville in 2010 when we were doing genealogical research. My great grandparents are buried in the cemetery above the town. In fact, I have ancestors scattered throughout Southern Oregon. We were happily jumping from graveyard to graveyard  looking for dead people. It’s like going a treasure hunt.

We were also searching for a place to live after our three years of wandering around North America. Peggy was ready to settle. Our daughter Tasha was lobbying for us to move to Tennessee and live close to her family.  But I am a Western-type guy and the Rockies were about as far east as I was willing to travel. I had developed an affinity for New Mexico and both Peggy and I enjoyed the mountainous/less populated areas of Northern California.

We ended up falling in love with Jacksonville and the Siskiyou Mountains, which is why I am sitting here this morning in my home 25 miles outside of Jacksonville looking out at the Red Buttes and listening to the Applegate River while I write this blog.

Red Buttes in the Siskiyou Mountains.

A sunset view of the Red Buttes from our patio.

Jacksonville got its start in the 1850s. Southern Oregon, like Northern California, was part of the great gold rush that sent the 49ers scurrying west to seek their fortunes. Soon the town was booming. With the addition of a railroad, it became the county seat for Jackson County and one of the largest cities in Oregon. Eventually the gold was mined out. When the railroad bypassed the town in 1884, Jacksonville started on a gradual decline.

The good news here is that the historic buildings in town were preserved instead of being torn down in the name of progress. In 1966, the threat of bulldozers turning the town into a freeway encouraged the residents to apply for and become a National Historic District. Today the small community of 3000 has a substantial tourist trade based on its historic ambience. A growing wine industry in the region helps assure its future.

You know you are in an Old West town when you find the Wells Fargo Express building.  The town i grew up in the foothills of California, Diamond Springs, also had an old Wells Fargo building.

You know you are in an Old West town when you find the Wells Fargo Express (stage-coach stop) building. The gold rush town I grew up in the foothills of California, Diamond Springs, also had an old Wells Fargo building.

Street scene in downtown Jacksonville, Oregon.

A view on the opposite side of Jacksonville’s main street. The white building on the end is the Masonic Lodge. Fraternal organizations played an important role in communities during the 1800s.

Redmen's Hall Jacksonville, Oregon

Another historical fraternal organization of Jacksonville is the Improved Order of Redmen, which traces its history back to the Revolutionary War and the Boston Tea Party.

Redmen's Hall Jacksonville, Oregon.

Redmen’s Hall is one of my favorite buildings in Jacksonville. Built in 1884, it housed the local chapter of Redmen, the Oregonian Pocahontas Tribe #1. Hard to beat being #1.

5 cent Owl cigar billboard on the side of Redmen's Hall in Jacksonville Oregon.

There was a time when any blank building wall was an opportunity waiting for a billboard. This old billboard on the side of Redmen’s Hall, features five cent Owl Cigars and Levi Strauss overalls.

Redmen's Hall in Jacksonville, Oregon.

A shot looking upward at Redmen’s Hall.

Window reflection photo in Jacksonville, Oregon.

I thought this was a rather classic window reflection shot.

A window reflection photo in Jacksonville, Oregon.

A closeup of the window reflection photo shown above.

Bozo the Clown's boyhood home in Jacksonville, Oregon.

Many older homes have also been preserved in Jacksonville. This was the house of Judge Colvig. His son Pinto inspired the creation of Goofy and went on to become known worldwide as Bozo the Clown. My grandfather’s sister married Pinto’s older brother, which I guess, in a way, makes me related to both Goofy and Bozo.

Peggy and I were immediately impressed with the flower boxes and baskets lining the streets of Jacksonville. Flowers are changed regularly to reflect what is in season. All maintenance is done by volunteers.

Peggy and I were immediately impressed with the flower boxes and baskets lining the streets of Jacksonville. Flowers are changed regularly to reflect what is in season. All maintenance is done by volunteers.

Pansies in jacksonville, Florida.

More Jacksonville pansies.

Flower in Jacksonville, Oregon.

I liked the delicate, crinkled paper look of the flower.

Raindrops on flowers in Jacksonville, Oregon.

A brief rain left behind rain drops.

Giant grapevine in Jacksonville, Oregon.

This may be the Mother of All grapevines. I found it covering the sides of one of the buildings.

Woodland scene near Jacksonville, Oregon.

The size of Jacksonville is demonstrated by the fact that this scene is found five minutes from the main street.

NEXT BLOG: I return to one of my favorite hobbies, exploring the world of Native American rock art found in remote locations throughout the southwestern United States.

When Being Goofy Isn’t Enough


OK, I am a little strange. I admit it. But Goofy… no way. I confess, however, I’ve had a long affinity for the floppy eared, big-footed fellow. Yuk Yuk.

It all started when my mother told me that a cousin of hers, Vance ‘Pinto’ Colvig, was the original voice of Goofy.

I had never heard of Pinto so I looked him up. Sure enough, he was the voice of Goofy. In fact Walt Disney was so taken with the voice that he gave Goofy a starring role as one of Mickey’s best buddies.

I was willing to let the connection slide after that. I did trot Goofy out on an occasion, however. In the competitive world of dating, it’s valuable to have a famous relative, even if he’s a cartoon. More than one woman was impressed with my shirttail link, including my wife Peggy.

I never used “I am related to Goofy,” as a conversation starter, though. It was more like a third or fourth date thing.

When Peggy and I recently moved to the Applegate Valley in Southern Oregon, I decided to do more research on Pinto. He’s a native son of the area and grew up in the historic town of Jacksonville, which is where Peggy and I go to play.

Turns out Pinto’s big brother, Donald Colvig, married my mother’s aunt, Star Marshall. I guess that made my mother a second cousin, once removed and makes me… nothing. But I am still going to claim Goofy. And there’s more:

I learned that Pinto was also the creator of Bozo the Clown! Now I have a choice. I can either claim I’m related to Goofy or claim I’m related to Bozo. I am not sure what that buys me but it might make an interesting epitaph.

A painting of Bozo

Pinto was a very talented man who spent his life making people laugh. Here are some of his other accomplishments. He was:

  •      The voice of Pluto, Mickey’s dog.
  •      The voice of the anal pig who built the brick house in the Three Little Pigs.
  •      The voice of Grumpy and Sleepy in the original version of Snow White.
  •      The co-composer of ‘Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf.’
  •      The voice of one of the three Munchkins who sang the Lollipop song in Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz.
  •      The voice for Popeye’s nemesis Bluto who was always hustling Olive Oyl.

In this early photo, Walt Disney listens in on a song. Pinto is on the right, playing the Clarinet.

It’s quite a legacy. Pinto also had a nationally syndicated comic strip and was co-owner of an animation studio. Interestingly to me, Pinto was also one of the first people to urge that warning labels be put on cigarettes. ( I spent three decades doing battle with Big Tobacco.)

Goofy and Bone share a moment.

A Wilderness Home in Oregon

This view is looking south from our front patio. The mountains are part of the Red Buttes Wilderness area of Northern California. The whole area is being proposed for national monument status because of its beauty and biodiversity.

Our son Tony, his wife Cammie, the two-year old Connor and the nine-month-old Christopher just completed a visit to our new mountain home in Oregon. It was obvious they loved it.

They also liked the historic community of Jacksonville. In fact Cammie raved about the town. I was surprised, however, when she asked Peggy why we hadn’t chosen to live there instead of at our more rural retreat in Applegate Valley.

A view of Jacksonville's main street. My barber, Ed McBee, has his shop on the right.

On one level, I understand the question. It is great to have good restaurants, cultural opportunities such as the Britt Festival, a library, a variety of shops and a grocery store all within walking distance. Finding such a place is rare in our world of urban sprawl.

My ancestors apparently liked the community; I have Great Grandparents buried in the cemetery overlooking the town and a related family, the Colvigs, owned a home there that is now on the National Historic Registry.

But there are also inherent values connected to living in the woods. Peggy quickly related them to Cammie and assured her that I hadn’t forced my lovely wife into a world of isolation. (Jacksonville is only a short 30-minute commute away from our home plus it is a beautiful drive. There are no clogged freeways.)

The view looking westward from our front patio toward the Pacific Ocean.

I was thinking about Cammie’s comments last night as I stood outside our house and looked up at the Milky Way. It’s a view you rarely get in urban areas or even small communities. The bright lights and pollution hide the stars. I could hear the Applegate River rushing by the front of our home and some small animal rustling around in the bushes behind me.

One of the deer that Connor visited who is interested in any garden Peggy may plant.

Earlier in the day I had given Connor a wheelbarrow ride up to the back of our property so he could say ‘bye-bye’ to the deer that hang out there. He’d been up to visit them several times. The herd comes down from the Rogue National Forest that forms our back property line. They are eager for Peggy to put in a garden.

Connor also waved goodbye to the swing that Tony and I had put up for him in a White Oak.

We had carefully surveyed our property looking for the perfect swing tree and a future tree house site. With over a hundred White Oaks on our five acres plus Douglas Fir, Red Cedar, Ponderosa Pines and Madrones there are numerous options.

Don’t get me wrong about Jacksonville, we could live there quite easily and may someday.  But for now, our retreat in the woods with its beautiful views, abundant wildlife, national forest and rushing river is exactly where we want to be. It’s a place that we are eager to share with family, friends and children.

And it is a place where our grandchildren can come and wander through the woods to their heart’s content. It was this freedom and the introduction to wilderness that I loved most about growing up in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I can’t think of a better gift to give to our newest generation.

A view of the Applegate River just down from our property.

A side view of our house looking toward front patio.

While we haven't been snowed in, we have seen a fair amount of snow this past week as demonstrated by one of our Red Cedars.

A distant Peggy stands in the middle of our White Oak forest, points to our distant house and says "mine."

Behind this sign at the back of our property are 1.8 million acres of National Forest. I consider this photo one of the most scenic I have ever taken.

One of the reasons we bought our mountain retreat is so our grandchildren Christopher and Connor and their cousins Ethan and Cody can grow up playing in the woods and learning to appreciate the value of protecting America's great wilderness areas.