When I moved to Ashland, Oregon, I felt like I was culturally at home again.
Ashland might seem like a small town to most people, but for me, it was like having the world at my fingertips again. Before I moved here, I had been living in an extremely remote community in Northern California called Happy Camp. Yes, that’s really its name.
Happy Camp is home to about 900 people living in the wilderness of the Siskiyou Mountains—many beyond the phone lines. It was an hour and a half’s drive to the nearest movie theater and book store, and the two major community events each year were the logging festival and the junior high graduation.
It was breathtakingly beautiful with its steep, fir-covered mountains, and living there was one of the most fascinating experiences of my life. But after five years of working as a therapist there, I was ready to move back to a bigger city. So I took a job in Ashland, Oregon, which is a beautiful town just north of the California border.
I knew I was home again. When I first moved here, I shopped at the health-food co-op every day just so I could be in that environment and see the Chinese herbal medicine, the organic food, and the alternative people. It was like coming home to that whole alternative world that felt so familiar and comfortable. It was a relief after so many years of living a remote existence.
I spent most of my adult life in Santa Cruz, California, so I feel most at home living in a place with a large and well-established alternative community. Basically, I prefer to live somewhere with a lot of middle-aged hippy alums. I like having easy access to organic food and herbs, music, art, books, alternative healing options, a wide variety of spiritual activities, and the cultural offerings that come with living near a college. I found all that again when I moved to Ashland in 1994.
Ashland is perhaps most famous for The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which is based here. I love going to plays at the Shakespeare Festival and concerts at the summer-long, outdoor Britt Festival. I also enjoy going to classes, lectures, events, and workshops in the artistic, spiritual, and healing communities.
What I also found in Ashland were incredible mountain views and strikingly beautiful scenery. Ashland lies in the Rogue River Valley between the northern end of the Siskiyou Mountains, which are steep and green, and the southern end of the Cascade Range, which is volcanic and not as steep.
There is also quick access to a lot of wilderness and hiking trails. The outdoor recreation options are plentiful and available year-round, from rafting on the Rogue and Klamath Rivers to a ski resort located thirty minutes from downtown. If you’re not up for something quite that extreme, there are beautiful walking trails in Lithia Park in downtown Ashland. The park, which is home to a wonderful duck pond, was designed by landscape architect John McLaren, who created San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.
Ashland is very livable in other ways, too. It’s easy to walk, bike, or jog around the city since there are sidewalks and bike lanes. There’s rarely much traffic—at least compared to bigger cities. Another perk is that Ashland doesn’t have parking meters and there’s only one pay parking lot downtown, so that keeps excursions from becoming too pricey.
Unfortunately, many other things have become extremely expensive here. The cost of real estate has soared in the past twelve years, as many wealthy people have decided to move here after visiting the Shakespeare Festival and falling in love with the area. It has become a popular retirement spot for the wealthy. In turn, many middle class families are having a hard time affording housing and a couple elementary schools have shut down due to low enrollment.
Ashland has become pretty top heavy with well-educated, wealthy, retired, white people. It doesn’t have a lot of racial diversity, which is something that I miss from having lived in Santa Cruz and Happy Camp. About one-third one Happy Camp’s population was made up of Karuk Indians.
Another downside for me is that the climate is not my ideal preference. I appreciate the fact that it doesn’t snow very often, but the winters can be overcast with too many gray days. I also prefer living in a place with more rain. During the long dry season, there’s always a threat of forest fires and that makes me uneasy.
I don’t know if Ashland will be home forever, but for now this is where I am happy to be. I’ve moved a lot, including living in Germany, and I love the adventure of a new place. I’m just not exactly sure what the next chapter will be.