Where would you live if you could just up and move tomorrow? How would you select the perfect place? What criteria would you use to choose?
In keeping with our tendency to over-analyze, and to help us find the answer to the first question, Glenn and I answered the second and third questions with a detailed list of requirements for our Haven. This includes considerations for the locale and culture. For example, we decided we want to live somewhere near a college or tourist destination that features a creative, striving populace.
Government inserting itself into our daily lives needs to be minimal (sorry, not sorry, California). The homesite itself must meet certain conditions like being quiet and oh-so private. It also has to have access to high-speed internet because, well, we’re not savages.
Geography, climate, and environment are also big factors. Flat terrain or places with oppressive summers are for someone else. We like land with texture and four distinct seasons to help us appreciate nature’s many faces. There are automatic disqualifiers on the list too like high levels of airborne allergens, flood zones, and climate change disaster areas.
While we thoroughly enjoyed the rich and varied experiences we had in California, due to their mind-boggling rules and taxes, we knew we were just visiting while we overwintered there. Crossing into Oregon finally gave us a chance to dust off our requirements list to see if a new place could make the cut.
Ashland, Oregon is nestled at the base of its namesake peak. The town is host to outdoor enthusiasts of every stripe, Southern Oregon University, and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Its self-aware, crunchy-granola ethos, expressed in mandalas and curlicues, can be spied in its architecture, funky storefronts, inviting parks, and eclectic restaurant menus.
Lithia park, a gem inside a jewel, is well-loved and used by all. People picnic on and stroll its emerald lawns as Ashland Creek ambles beside them.
On our visit, carefree children laughed and played outside on the playground – a sight we haven’t seen in over a year. Another small group of children ran, chased, and popped oversized bubbles their father launched by whirling a soapy wand through the air. The soundtrack for this idyllic day was supplied by an accomplished cellist who set up his chair and propped open his case to receive well-deserved tips.
It was lovely.
But a dire threat hangs over this picturesque town. And that single factor disqualifies it from our Haven list.
Like so many western locales these days, Ashland risks devastation by fire every year. In 2020, thousands of acres of nearby forest burned and homes and lives were lost here in the Alameda fire. In 2019, the Lumgrey fire threatened the town, and in 2018 it was the Hendrix fire that consumed forests and structures and smothered residents in an unbreathable blanket of smoke.
Today, fire defines all of southern and central Oregon. On our way from Ashland toward Crater Lake and then on to Bend, we saw firsthand the toll these devastating blazes have taken on the land.
We are familiar with such scenery, having called colorful Colorado home for most of our lives. There too, massive wildfires are a perennial menace to the land and its people.
The scale is as hard to comprehend as it is to express. Entire mountains are stubbled with the charred remains of once-verdant forests. High moraine valleys also bear scars, with stacked timbers looming like ebonized gravestones that mark each departed grove.
The sweeping beauty of the landscape here deserves a better fate, as do the people who call this place home.
During our stay near Crater Lake, we ourselves had a close encounter with the start of fire season. Marked by record droughts, 2021 has all the markings of another tragic summer of wildfire here and across the west.
And so, with a heavy sense of sadness, we quietly removed charming, imperiled Ashland as a candidate. There, it joins Colorado and all of non-coastal Oregon on the list of disqualified potential Havens.