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  • Walking on air through smoke-filled skies

  • The Professor is safely arrived for a week's visit. And I am over-the-moon happy.
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  • The Professor is safely arrived for a week's visit. And I am over-the-moon happy.
    As we sit and sip cool beverages on the back deck of my cottage, which overlooks the Rogue River, it occurs to me for the bazillionth time that I am determined this oh-so-beautiful Southern Oregon valley make a good impression on my travel-weary beau. This time.
    The thin-blooded, sun-worshipping California native flew here for a previous meeting in late February. Poor dear barely survived his flights. Then just about froze his tuchus off once he arrived.
    "You just need to acclimate," I'd assured him. "You'll love it here."
    The Professor may be quite fond of yours truly. But it speaks volumes that the nonflier cheerfully braved those same tiny planes to return to warmer climes. He even suffered sudden increases in airfare and an impromptu in-flight re-route without complaint.
    Our next visit occurred in late May when this heat-hating Hannah flew down to brave her own version of climate hell.
    "Do you have a fan?" was my first request upon arriving at his Palm Springs air-conditioned condo.
    The rest of the week's events are pretty much a sweat-filled, sleep-deprived haze. It was very lovely to spend time together. And I especially enjoyed meeting his dad and daughters. But I was also happy to get back to Rogue River where my clothes don't stick to my body. Except when they do.
    Swirling the ice in my spritzer, I wave a dismissive hand at the roiling black clouds of smoke hovering just downstream, then breezily inform The Professor that there are a few fires brewing in our area.
    "But you don't need to worry," I say, smiling sweetly at him, whilst casting a stink-eye glare at the pending threat.
    "I'm in a perfect little micro-climate here," I expound. "Even when it's foggy in Grants Pass, it's almost always clear and sunny at my place."
    He raises a skeptical eyebrow, along with his beverage, in a smirking salute. But he says naught.
    "I have the right to remain silent ... ." It's one of his favorite phrases. Even when he doesn't. Even when I'm hoisted by my own petard. Or ill-fated shifts in the prevailing winds.
    Fade to black. Literally. For we awake the next morning, engulfed in an eye-watering, lung-choking blanket of smoke.
    We stick it out for a day lounging around the cottage. But Wednesday's trip to Medford results in headaches and hacking.
    I have the brilliant idea that we can get above this menace by heading up toward Union Creek. But fire fallout from Glendale to Klamath Falls to Lord-knows-where-else drifts across the mountainous state highway like heavy tendrils of fog. It burns our eyes and tortures our lungs.
    Clearly I am not the Smoke Whisperer. On a happier note, The Professor very much enjoys his slice of berry pie at Beckie's Cafe. And the murky skies make for some lovely photo opps as we hack our way along the riverside trail. Another day hunkering down in the Rogue Valley and we hightail it for the coast. Up Interstate 5 to Winston through the worst of the smoke, we turn west and wind our way over to Bandon. And breathe in the cool salty breezes.
    We tour seaside art galleries before cruising down Highway 101 and cutting across Highway 199 to head back home. Outside of Cave Junction, The Professor spies an old grove in the forest and pulls off for a brief wander amongst the mammoth trees. Magical.
    The next day we head to Ashland to visit its gallery scene. A day spent talking to fellow artists and touring the town.
    I know it's ridiculous, but as he's leaving, I can't stop apologizing for the fires. A pragmatic fellow, The Professor informs me he's lived through worse — one horrible smoke-filled summer in San Diego. And reminds me things were pretty smoky in Palm Springs in the weeks before this visit. Then he says what I've been wanting to hear.
    "I'll be back," he whispers. "Sooner than you think."
    Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or email sspecht@mailtribune.com.
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