The Last Laugh: Lost Campers

Even when the destination is a major world ocean and only miles away, some lost campers need directions.
By Jeff Taylor
April/May 1994
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The lost campers were equipped with everything they needed for a sojourn in nature: motor home, two motorcycles, and a powerboat.

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Soon as the rosy-fingered dawn appears, Joy and I grab long-handed tools to toil in the soil and comb the loam. A hummingbird twinkles down a curving flight path to the end of my shovel, looks me in the eye and whirs away like a tiny electric motor. All is peaceful for an hour or so. But then our dogs bark madly in the dooryard when a white dinosaur lumbers up the driveway, its well-muffled engine rising up like a submarine breaching water, and then it slams down, engine idling.

We get a few lost campers every spring. Considering how many vehicles are represented, this one counts for a whole season: one motor home, with two motorcycles mounted on the rear bumper, towing a powerboat. From behind a windshield the size of a picture window, two harried faces stare down. As campers go, these two do not look happy; something has disgruntled them. It's a good bet they are having a marital fight, postponed while they stop for directions. She points at me and her mouth moves: "Ask him, Walter."

Country people take their entertainment where they can get it. Even so, rural Oregonians try to be helpful. Strangers and outlanders, know this: It is a myth that Oregonian country people are not friendly to tourists, especially those from the neighboring state to the south. Anyone who leaves tectonically unstable regions to seek high ground and bedrock is using pure intellect. But privacy is the sweetest and rarest commodity in the country, and houses aren't built near roads solely for motorists who cannot read maps.

The man leans out his window while his wife continues to micromanage him. "I'm lost," he admits, flapping a shut-up gesture over his shoulder at her. "Which way is the ocean?"  

I pitch my lower lip between thumb and forefinger. It's a momentous question. Even the dogs look at me expectantly. In 11 years at this location giving directions to lost tourists, that's the dumbest thing I've ever been asked. We ought to have some kind of commemorative celebration for it, perhaps a little award ceremony. But when differing lifestyles intersect, we should all exercise patience and charity.  

So I point down our driveway. "Okay, if you get back on that highway..." I begin. Obviously this fellow has no mystical connection with the mother ocean that spawned his first cellular ancestor. Every drop of fluid in his body has the same salinity as the Pacific Ocean—the largest body of water on the planet and the one he can't locate. You can smell it from here, when the wind is right. This highway leads directly to the coast and directly away from it. Far to the east is the Atlantic, another entire ocean. Ergo, there can be no wrong way if they just keep going.

Should I tell him all this, answering the larger and more germane philosophical issues, or would he think I was trying to get the last laugh at his expense? So many answers, all of them true. Meantime, I supply simple, easy directions: "...and then you turn left, which is west ...." Why do they want to go to the ocean? Nothing there but ozone, as Bernard Shaw observed, to give one fearful appetitre and prolong one's life unduly.

"Was I right? What does he say?" she asks him, obviously unhappy with the speed of my reply. Joy drifts over from the garden, looking sensible; so the woman opens the window on her side and speaks to my wife, probably asking her the same question. It may be a mistake. Joy is the very incarnation of hospitality and an expert in the art of country harmony, but a transplanted Vermonter to the core. When asked directions, Vermonters give monosyllabic responses with zero information value: another old myth, but it happens to be true.

I point, dramatically, in the direction of the Pacific: "...And then you keep going until you see something big, blue, and wet. That's it." He nods curtly and turns around, quite a feat with a rig that size. He misses our shed and drives over the hump without bending his drive shaft too badly.

Joy looks at me. We walk to the bluff, watching them go. The motor home stops at the front of the drive, hesitates, and turns in the correct direction. They will reach the sea in one hour. Godspeed.

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