A Surprise Visit

D. E. Larsen, DVM

     “Dave, I am flying from San Francisco to Seattle this weekend,” Marsden said on the phone. “If it works out for you, I could stop off in Eugene, spend the weekend and then catch a flight out of Portland.”

    “What a surprise,” I said. “That will work great. I can pick you up in Eugene, and we can drop you off at the Portland Airport.”

      Marsden had been in the Army with me. We had both been in Company D at Fort Devens, a duty company, while we were waiting for class spaces to become available.

     After Fort Devens, I went to Korea for 13 months and then went to West Germany. Marsden was at Wobeck, a small outpost out of the village of Schöningen when I arrived. We worked together in the maintenance shop for the 17 months that I was there. We worked well together, and along with a few others, we became quite a team.

In the early summer, Marsden stepped out onto the ramp of the small commuter airplane at the Eugene airport. My seven-year-old daughter, Amy, had made the trip with me to pick Marsden up. Her hair was whipping around in the stiff breeze. 

“I bet you had a bumpy ride in that little puddle jumper,” I said as I extended my hand. Marsden had not changed any in the 10 years since we had seen each other. Still tall and slim with thinning rusty red hair. At least taller than me, but that is pretty easy to accomplish.

“It wasn’t bad until we came down to approach the airport,” Marsden said.

“I was hoping I could identify you,” I said. But you haven’t changed a bit.” 

We had both returned to school after the Army. I became a veterinarian, and Marsden got a Ph.D. in Geography. He was working for a German company now and living some in the US and some in Germany. His wife, Elke, was from Schöningen.

“How long do you have to stay,” I asked. 

“Not long, I have a flight out of Portland on Sunday evening,” Marsden said. “I hope that doesn’t inconvenience you much.”

“No problem at all,” I said. “We can find something to do on Saturday and take the back road to Portland to give you a flavor of Oregon.”

The only complication we had was my folks were staying with us this weekend. That made sleeping arrangements a little tight. We put my folks in Brenda’s bedroom and Marsden in Derek’s bedroom. Kids are adaptable enough that they can sleep anywhere.

Finding something to do on Saturday in a veterinarian’s house is not difficult. The phone rang early. I had a cow to look at in Cascadia. She was down after calving the day before.  She was out in the brush, so we would have to walk a bit. What an opportunity to show Marsden a slice of Oregon that few visitors get a chance to see.

“The only problem,” Marsden said. “I don’t have any old clothes to wear. I probably don’t want to wear a suit out there.”

“I think you will sort fit some of my stuff,” I said. “What size of shoes do you wear?”

“I wear a size 10,” Marsden said. It looks like I could probably squeeze into an old pair of your shoes.”

So I decked Marsden out in an outfit that would fit right in at Cascadia. Old pair of Levis, they could have used another 3 inches on the legs, but at least his pants legs wouldn’t get wet. I found a shirt that fit and a wool shirt to keep him warm. We would be fine if the weather held.

The drive up the river was a pleasant one. In the early summer, the streamflow was still vigorous, and everything was green. Marsden was quiet. I was hoping he wasn’t regretting his decision.

“I am impressed,” Marsden said. “Your life is just what you said you wanted when you left Germany.”

I hadn’t thought much about that, but I guess he was right.

We pulled onto the place at Cascadia and were greeted by an old gray-haired lady and her son. The cow was down in a little thicket of brush. We gathered my stuff and followed the son out to the cow. Turned out to be a milk fever. I gave her some IV calcium and a couple of other shots, and we were done.

“Since we are halfway to Mountain House, I will take you up and show you a big tree.”

We continued our drive up the river and turned up Soda Fork Creek, right before we got to Mountain House. A couple miles up the creek, I pulled over, and we got out to look at a massive old-growth Douglas Fir. This solitary tree was located between the road and the creek. I am not sure of its height, but it was 10 to 12 feet in diameter at the butt.

“Are there any others like this one,” Marsden asked?

“Over the hill, on the Middle Santiam, there is a whole hillside.”

“Can we go there,” Marsden asked?

“Sort of, to get into the trees, we would have to cross a massive slide,” I said. “We are not really dressed for that trip. But we can get a look at the hillside. There is a big struggle going on right now, trying to make that entire area a wilderness area.”

“I would like to go look,” Marsden said.

“It is a little bit of a drive. We should go down to Mountain House and get some gas first. I could probably make it on what we have, but it is just a good idea to drive with a full tank in the backcountry.”

We drove back down the road to Mountain House and entered the rustic combination, store, restaurant, and rest stop. They did have a gas pump.

“We need some gas,” I said to the unshaven guy behind the counter.

“I am out of gas. If you come back on Tuesday, I can sell you all the gas you need,” the guy said.

Marsden chuckled at that.

“We won’t be around on Tuesday,” I said.

“You might be able to get some at old man Totman’s down at Cascadia,” the guy said.

We drove back to Cascadia. The old man was in the cluttered station. I motioned Marsden to look at the stuffed bobcat on the high shelf. It took some idle conversation and a couple of stories, but we got our gas tank full and headed back to Soda Fork.

The road over the ridge to the Middle Santiam River followed Soda Fork for several miles and then climbed the hill to Cool Camp. Cool Camp was probably once a logging camp location, but now it was just a large intersection of logging roads. 

From Cool Camp, it was all downhill to the banks of the Middle Santiam River. The road passed through timber and areas of regrowth on the harvested ground. There were many twists and turns in this road, so the 5 or 6 miles seemed much longer.

We came to a stop at the large slide. I had hoped that Marsden would have the panorama of the Middle Santiam’s old-growth forest in full view. Unfortunately, the drive was somewhat in vain as the forested hills were shrouded in fog. 

We spent some time here and then returned home for the remainder of the day: dinner that evening and some idle conversation over a beer. Sunday morning, we took Oregon Highway 213 to Oregon City. This provided a much better slice of Oregon than the drive along the freeway. I was trying to show the best of Western Oregon, and Marsden was most impressed with the old car bodies in the back yards along the way. Those don’t exist in the east, where salt is used on the highways in the winter.

From Oregon City, it was a short trip to drop Marsden off at the Portland airport. A handshake and we parted ways again, almost the same as in Germany, but this time it was Marsden catching the plane.

For Marsden’s information, the area we spent those few minutes on the Middle Santiam is now located well within the Middle Santiam Wilderness Area’s boundaries.

Photo by Dan Meyers on Unsplash

Published by d.e.larsen.dvm

Country vet for over 40 years in Sweet Home Oregon. I graduated from Colorado State University in 1975. I practiced in Enumclaw Washington for a year and a half before moving to Sweet Home to start a practice.

5 thoughts on “A Surprise Visit

  1. I am glad Marsden got to see the area. It is very beautiful here. I had to chuckle at the mention of the old car bodies and salted roads back east. I remember the winter weather salting of the roads quite well, and what it does to a car. I still have the old Subaru with over 456,000 miles on it. It still has the original engine and transmission, but sure could use some new body panels and wheel wells. All salt damage. The engine will outlive the body.


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