EDITOR’S NOTE: The columns of Bill Duncan are being reprinted in The News-Review. Duncan, who died in November 2011, wrote a weekly column for The News-Review and The Capital Press of Salem from 1981 to 2011. Duncan wrote the following column in July 1994.
My wife graduated from journalism school cum laude. That’s only because geography was not one of the required courses on her degree track.
Why I listen to her as a navigator, I will never know.
Once we were visiting in Coos Bay and a man, a complete stranger, told her a shortcut back to Roseburg. She insisted I try that route, rather than taking “the long way” via Highway 42 — a nice wide road with only a few ‘S’ curves.
Her new route was called Coos Bay Wagon Road. Aptly named, except I didn’t have a wagon. It was a logging road that narrowed down to one lane in places and hugged the mountain on one side and a stream on the other. If you drove at speeds of 30 miles an hour, you were reckless.
She thought it was scenic. I thought I had foolishly followed her directions again, knowing full well she gets lost on a city street with a map in her hand.
She accompanied me recently to a conference at Western Oregon University in Monmouth. I have driven there by way of Salem. Admittedly, going back to Roseburg by way of Salem is heading north to go south, but it is a familiar route to 1-5.
“Oh, there’s an easier way,” my wife said, looking at a map. She then preceeded to give me directions to get to Albany on back roads. “You’ll save time and miles,” she promised.
We drove the specified route through Independence, Buena Vista and down a country road only to come to a dead-end and a large sign: Ferry Closed!
Ferry? What ferry?
“Back up,” my wife said, “you missed a turn.”
“I’ll say I missed it. It was back there in Independence when I should have turned toward Salem,” I said.
“No,” she argued. “It was the fork in the road.”
Any fool knows taking a fork in the road is dangerous.
At the fork, she spied an arrow “to the freeway” pointing left.
“You see,” she said, “you should have turned here.”
Of course I should have. Actually, I shouldn’t have. I should have taken the familiar route to Salem where I knew 1-5 would be. But I listened to the navigator and turned left. Then following the arrows turned right, then left, then right again, then left again on a roller coaster ride through farm country. Each few miles was another sign promising 1-5 was somewhere out in the distance. Strawberry fields, vineyards, orchards, hops, broccoli, alfalfa — all growing in rich soil alongside windy roads that looked like they’d been laid out by a farmer who climbed aboard a tractor after spending too much time sampling the wares of the vineyards.
Over hill and dale we drove mile after mile following the signs — arrows pointing to a mythical freeway. My wife kept remarking on how beautiful it was, trying of course, to distract the driver and get his mind off the fact that once again he’d taken the shortcut home.
I drive by landmark and there wasn’t a familiar landmark in site until I came around a corner and there it was.
A barn that I have reckoned on for years. It was just a short distance from Interstate 5.
If that barn, I told my wife, has the sign painted on its side with the Biblical reference: “Armor Up For God.” I know where I am now.
When I came face on to the barn some damned farmer had covered up my Biblical landmark with galvanized tin.
I may never find my way back to Salem.