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CHASING DOWN THE MUSE: Laguna roots bind friendships

Girls! Girls! Girls!

How is it that we always seem to have so much fun when we get together?

Salkum, Washington, November 2007.

We’ve gathered again. Lifelong Laguna friends, Cate Beck (Cathy Kauer), Sue Jones (Klaasen), Merri Pike (Johns) and me, Catharine Cooper (Cathie), to celebrate the retirement and new home of Cate and Walter Beck.

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Sue’s come from Prunedale and Merri from Danville. Our planes are set to arrive within minutes of each other at Portland International Airport, except that my plane has a faulty fuel gauge, and I have a two-hour repair wait at John Wayne.

The girls are gracious. They wait for me at the airport, grab a bite to eat and are all smiles and hugs and, “God it is soooo good to see you”, when I arrive.

Cate has a master plan, and we are her pawns, in what seems to be a bathing weekend.

First stop, Carson, a small town north and west of Portland in southern Washington. Once a vintage hotel, the bulk of Carson has been replaced by a golfing resort, but oddly, they have kept the remains of the original bathhouse, a rickety white wooden building with rows of claw foot bathtubs fed by sulfur hot springs.

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Men and women have separate sides, and tubs are separated by white cotton curtains. $20 secures a 35-minute soak in the most rotten egg smelling 136° water you can imagine, followed by followed by a “wrap.” Think of this as cocooned mummies in a long room of white cots. We are covered in towels, sheets and a blanket, tucked in on all sides, a light towel over our eyes, and left to sweaty thoughts.

It’s incredibly quiet in the room, except I think I hear Sue turn over. After what seems like forever, I start to wonder when the bath attendant, Kelly, is going to unwrap me. The girls and I have already been chastised for talking too much in the “quiet” zone, and I’m not anxious to draw her ire.

Suddenly, her voice chides rather impatiently, “Lady, it’s past four o’clock. Do you think you might want to get up?”

I drag my arms from their cocoon wrap and am chagrined to discover that I am the last body in the room. The other girls are showered, dressed and gigging at me as I shuffle toward the shower dragging my draping. I curse their “evil” joke of leaving me as the “lone mummy.”

On the way to Cate’s house, we try to find a wine store — not an easy prospect out in the country. We settle for a gas station, that has a convenience store, that sells — well, we won’t talk about vintage or maybe even the grape.

But we do fall in love with the lighters at the checkout stand. One, a deer (think Bambi) blows flames out of her mouth when you press on her head. The other, a small chain saw that turns mini-blow torch. I’m not sure who is more entertained — the girls with the lighter toys, or the young men who work at the station.

The next day, it’s more water play. This time, off to Anne’s house, Cate’s new Washington friend.

Ann and her husband, Jim, live on 65 acres of cleared pastureland in a beautiful old barn that they are continuing to renovate. They are refugees from San Diego and Whittier, and as Jim says as he looks out over his land and his cattle, “This sure beats LA.”

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Ann and Jim have actually been featured in several articles because of Chelk (a cow-herding elk). Chelk showed up as a calf, didn’t leave with the herd, and decided to take up residence with Jim’s cattle. Fish and Game have told him he can’t have the elk, to whit, Jim simply shows them that Chelk has no pen nor fence nor chain nor rope. He’s simply decided that he likes to live with them, and that’s that.

There’s a hot tub on the deck, and that’s our next stop. We bubble and share stories about Salkum and country living. One thing is for sure, we are all going to leave Cate’s presence squeaky clean.

Great meals, great stories, great laughter. These are all the components that make our mini-reunions such a fabulous experience. We are four decades of treasured friendship.

As I look at my lifelong friends’ faces, I still see us as teeny-boppers at Laguna Beach High School, full of dreams and anxious to get on with living. Now, smack dab in the middle of our lives, we are more radiant with each passing year. And we are gifted with the intimacy of our lifelong knowing of one another, and a comfort born in the roots of our very own small town.

Catharine Cooper’s got deep Laguna roots. She can be reached at cooper@catherinecooper.com


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