Ashland, Oregon, Fall 2014-2016
For three years in a row, I traveled to Ashland, Oregon, during the early fall for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Ashland is a quaint, small town of a bit over 20,000 residents nestled between pine-covered hills to the west and grassy hills to the east–the Siskiyou and Cascade ranges. I can walk the length of the city, from Southern Oregon University at the south end to Lithia Park to the north, in 25 minutes or less. Along the way, there are art galleries, craft shops, bookstores new and used, restaurants and clothing shops that feature soft sweaters and flowing dresses that reflect the laid-back atmosphere of this Oregon hamlet. I never knew why I loved to walk that Main Street, with all of those shops that look inviting, until I learned that the city banned chain stores from that downtown zone–no McDonalds amidst the breweries and Vctorian Bed &Breakfasts.
The Varsity Theatre shows independent films and hosts a film festival every year. The central city plaza has flowing fountains of mineral water that flows naturally from the ground, and there is even a special fountain for dogs. Hikers and bums hang out there or near the Chamber of Commerce, strumming guitars for a few coins, as do serious musicians.
Ashland caters to artists, students and even four-legged friends.
Lithia Park, a 93-acre natural park with trails and park areas, is bordered by Ashland Creek. The park offers a nice hike past the rocky creek bed, a Japanese Garden and recreational areas for tennis players, children and hikers. It’s especially beautiful in the early fall, when the trees just begin to turn.
Lithia Park also has a pond or two, a quiet place for contemplation.
I wish I could say that deer are as common as the craftsman style homes and occasional Victorian home, but the homes are multiplying, both east and west of the downtown. And the homes are getting larger and more beautiful as the city gentrifies. Up in the hills, million dollar manses with two million dollar views are going up or getting facelifts.
Of course, the 80-year-old Oregon Shakespeare Festival is the real draw to Ashland, bringing thousands of tourists from all over the country. They fill the hotels and Bed & Breakfasts from February to October. The Festival features plays old and new, at least two Shakespearean works every year, but also some of the classics, like Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” and a stage version of Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility.”
Growing ever more popular is the Festival’s Green Show, its free, open-air music and dance performances that run through summer and fall and draw the local community. The last time I was there, I saw a performance of Heiwa Taiko, a group of Northern California “grannies,” as they called themselves, who played vigorous Taiko drums. The oldest of the group was 92; these women were all healthy and vigorous, and their drumming reverberated through the crowd. One man danced and children sat still, in rapture.
The oldest “grannie” drums away.
For several years, when I made my annual pilgrimage to Ashland, I stayed in the same Airbnb cottage rented by a German woman who makes jewelry and raises horses out in Rogue River. It made me feel at home to come to the same place every year. And the beauty of the area and the small town atmostphere make me wish it were home.