Ashland

Ashland, Oregon was one of the shorter stops on my 15+ month “Accidental Sabbatical”.  Yet, it was one of my favorites.  A scenic, sweet, spiritual, & creative little town…  IMG_0556

I only stayed in Ashland a week–while driving between California and Washington.  I loved it though.  I have driven through several times in the past–stopped, walked around, and thought, “This is a great town!”.  Over the years I’ve met a number of wonderful people from Ashland, as well, including one of my favorite spiritual teachers–Gangaji (www.gangaji.org).  So, I finally decided to spend a little time…

Ashland is known for its water, and the large hotel in the image is the Ashland “Springs” Hotel.  I did not stay there, but it is a historic landmark.  The water around Ashland has a higher than normal lithium content and has been suggested over the years to have healing benefits.  I do know (as a psychiatrist) that lithium is mood-balancing.  So, I can imagine that drinking (or possibly absorbing through the skin) water with large amounts of lithium probably could be subtly happiness-enhancing, if nothing else.

Apparently, the healing waters are piped right into the Springs Hotel and at least one resort on the edge of town.  There is also a natural hot spring just outside of town.  Unfortunately, I did not make it there.  I was too busy (and happy) seeing plays and exploring on foot to get in my car for an excursion.  Next time, though, I will definitely make it to the hot springs (or stay right at the resort).  There are fountains right in the center of downtown, however, where you can taste the “lithia water”.  It definitely has a strange (pungent) taste, but I drank from the fountains every time I passed them.  I got used to the taste and came to kind of like it.  I had a really nice time in Ashland and felt very content when I was there.  Maybe the water contributed to that?  Could be…

There is a really lovely park in Ashland, also named after the lithium water–Lithia Park.  It has miles of hiking and walking trails, green grassy spots, a duck pond, a playground, and a fresh water river running through it.  There was always a pleasant community vibe at Lithia Park.  I strolled through there almost every day of my stay.  I especially loved sitting on the river rocks.

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Ashland is home to the famed Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF).  It runs for a good part of the year and showcases a number of wonderful plays–including some that were not written by Shakespeare–in several different venues.  There is a beautiful, large outdoor “Elizabethean Theater” and several indoor theaters of various sizes.

I am not a huge Shakespeare fan, but I definitely do enjoy some of his work.  (And I recognize the beauty, genius, and greatness of most, if not all, of it…).  I especially like The Tempest, Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Romeo and Juliet.  Midsummer Night’s Dream was part of this year’s festival, but it was not playing while I was in town.  So, I saw King Lear.  It was a good performance–interestingly modernized.  It was in a smaller/intimate theater.  You really felt almost a part of the production.  That was fun.  My favorite performance of the play was by actress Sofia Jean Gomez.  She played Cordelia–the daughter who refuses to pander to her father in order to get a part of his kingdom.  In the OSF modernized version of King Lear Cordelia was kind of “Goth” in style with black, edgy clothing, a streak of purple hair, and a tattoo on the back of her neck.

I enjoyed King Lear, but the play that really knocked my socks off was The Tenth Muse.  It is a new play, written by an “up and coming” Mexican playwright Tanya Saracho.  It tells the story of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, an 17th century Mexican nun who was renown for her intellectual and artistic creativity and achievement, despite living in a time when women’s creative voices and intellectual development was generally suppressed.  The play was deeply moving–with extremely poignant dialogue, direction, and acting.  The entire cast, director (Laurie Woolery), and playwright were female, as was much of the audience.

I truly do not know if I’ve ever seen a play that resonated more deeply with me.  I was so touched by it that I honestly wanted to sit in my chair and cry when it was over.  Though Sor Juana was able to express herself initially–much of her work was lost and later suppressed during the inquisition, along with the voices of many other women healers, artists, and intellectuals of the time.  The story (based on fact) was intense…both sad and inspiring.  It has stayed in my heart, very prominently, since.  Hardly a week has gone by that I haven’t thought of it, actually.  The incredible Sofia Jean Gomez was also in this play.  She gave a truly stunning performace as Sor Isabel, a distant relative of Sor Juana who was trying to preserve her legacy some years later (still during the inquisition).  Sor Isabel had become emotionally and physically ill from the forced oppression/suppression of the time and specifically of her own and her blood-relative’s Muse-inspired gifts.

All of the acting in this play was incredible.  But for some reason, Sofia Jean Gomez’s performance really hit a chord with me.  I am so grateful to have seen, heard, and witnessed this beautiful, impassioned piece of art.  If it weren’t for my lovely landlords’ strong recommendation, I would not have thought to see it.

Now I feel utterly blessed by the experience.

The Tenth Muse was definitely the highlight of my stay in Ashland, but there were a few other things that I really enjoyed…

For one–the town itself is filled with charming homes, peaceful streets, gardens, and deer.   Deer are literally wandering through the neighborhoods.  Everywhere.  I think for the residents this can become kind of a nuisance, but animals have a certain “energy” about them (as does everything).  Deer are symbolically associated with gentleness, quickness of thought/action, and tenderness or sweetness.  I really believe that having them all over the town contributes, probably pretty significantly, to the pleasant, sweet energy there.

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During my short stay, I rented a lovely attic apartment in a charming purple historic Victorian, right on the main street.  It had incredible views of the surrounding hillside and a beautiful garden.  It was so pleasant and quaint, I really did not want to get out and explore. But, I still did….

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Ashland is nestled in a bucolic valley setting–reminiscent of a European countryside (a very fitting location for a Shakespeare festival).  Driving into the region you are greeted by miles and miles of rolling yellow hills, forests, farmland, rivers and streams, and blue skies (usually).  It is very tranquil.

One of my favorite discoveries in Ashland was a pine cone in the shape of a rose. I love nature and tend to be very observant of the world around me.  So, one day, as I was walking to town from my little attic apartment, I noticed these pine cones on the ground next to their parent trees.  How special they were!  There were many, so it was not just an anomaly.  This truly is the divine design of these particular seed units!  I thought they would make a great hair accessory!

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Other than seeing plays, drinking water, sitting on rocks, and posing with pine cones, I had one other rather notable experience in Ashland–a daily trip to the Co-Op.  I am definitely quite passionate about health.  I LOVE super-charged yummy nutritious food, salads, and fresh-squeezed juices.  The Ashland Co-Op is one of the nicest, healthiest health food stores I’ve ever encountered.  They have an amazing juice bar, a large salad bar (almost or maybe even 100% organic), and a great prepared foods section with some truly nutritious options (quinoa salads, fresh cabbage salads, etc.).

It was possible to walk just about everywhere from my sweet little apartment, so every evening I would stroll down to the Co-Op to buy dinner and a fresh-squeezed veggie juice and sit outside listening to a friendly local play the guitar.  The scene at the Co-Op is definitely a bit “rootsy” (hippie-ish), but this, for me, was part of the charm.  There were fathers riding up on bikes with their children (and not locking them up while they shopped).  There were couples with young babies in strollers, teens on skateboards, and an assortment of single individuals, like me (some travelers, some locals).  The person who played the guitar was there almost every night–playing and singing for free (not even a hat out).  He seemed to know everyone, and everyone knew him–even me, by about day two…

I loved those Co-Op excursions.

And drinking a juice every day felt incredible!  Highly recommended.

Expensive, yes, but worth it…

There is also a really amazing restaurant called The Dragonfly that I did not eat at on this journey but have visited (twice) in the past.  The “Buddha Bowl” is incredible.  So is the patio seating in the little garden.  Ashland is also home to a growing “New Age” community.  It is really quite full of conscious, creative people, and the businesses definitely reflect this!  There are many nice galleries, shops, yoga studios, and a great spiritual bookstore.  The book store is called Soudpeace, and it’s located right next to an ice cream shop on the main street.  I got a wonderful book there and a beautiful “enhydro” Tibetan quartz crystal cluster (has trapped pockets of water).  It looks and feels amazing.  I’m enjoying it on my coffee table right now!

Well, I think that about sums up my visit to beautiful Ashland, Oregon.

If you’ve never been there, consider checking it out.

It really is an enchanting little spot…