December 1, 2023

John Darling: The middle of nowhere — the best place to be

John and Colin Darling at the Tashi Choling Center for Buddhist Studies in 2012. Photo from John Darling's Facebook page
June 20, 2022

‘You hand yourself over to it and let it find you. It always does.’

By John Darling

It was that day when it got over 100 degrees and you knew the thunderheads were going to build up over the Siskiyous and bring us lots of lightning. The kids were free and wanted to climb a mountain, a local one, not real big.  

John Darling in 1999

What they really wanted was to hang, just the three of us, as we had done so many thousands of times over their 17 and 19 years of life, just walking around, going in stores, cracking jokes, eating lunch out on some bluff, looking at this vast, beautiful, natural mystery we get to live in here, so, though I could have worked, I dropped it and we grabbed some fruit, drinks, trail mix and took off, beyond Siskiyou Pass to the trailhead at Pilot Rock.

What is more perfect than trekking up a trail with people you love, gaining elevation, stopping to catch breath, sharing in a common mind about the beauty, and our good fortune, as we scramble up the scree of this columnar jointed volcanic neck, the only one in the populated part of the Rogue Valley?

We reach that narrow, steep chute, the final path to the top. The kids haven’t done rock groping and we stop and talk it over, how it would be better to live and do it another day, when they’ve had some training and are wearing the right shoes. In other words, too scary. I gladly agree.

We do lunch on a big lava rock, with a sweeping view from Mount Shasta to Mount Ashland, taking grandiose pictures of each other in poses, serene to goofy. I’ve always taken every chance to turn something, anything into an educational op, so I point out the rusty field with nothing growing on it. Know why? It’s all volcanic ejecta, porous to rain, so ain’t no roots gonna get water.  

This is a time for story-telling, I decide, so, looking at the sweep of the valley up to the northwest, I tell them how I’ve been reading on the internet about the first mass UFO sightings in June and July of 1947 — and that one of them was right here, on the cloudless afternoon of June 29, a formation of nine flying saucers, “white as snow geese,” witnessed by Dr. Peter Vogel and his wife Kay, plus 18 other people in their group.  

It was five days earlier, near Mount Rainier, I relate, that a pilot saw a formation of nine UFOs and called them “saucer-shaped,” causing the press to coin the term “flying saucer.” Ten days after our incident, the notorious Roswell encounter happened, where the Air Force reported finding a crashed UFO, with alien bodies, in New Mexico, then quickly retracted the story, starting in motion the mythos of willful government cover-up.

Kids, I say, there are a lot of looney stories out there, maybe including Big Foot and the Loch Ness Monster, but a lot of “illegal information” is likely true and it’s important that you read everything and make up your own minds.

Remember, continental drift, evolution and destruction of dinosaurs by an asteroid (not to mention racial harmony and environmental sustainability) all once were considered the province of unstable, dangerous, barking-mad thought criminals – and we wouldn’t get anywhere if we didn’t keep pushing our way outside that box called normal.

Are the kids impressed? Nah. They ignore me.  But you know it went inside them and will be there down the road when they need it and it might seem wiser to go with what’s comfortable and agreed upon, rather than step off the beaten path, question things and be unpopular.

We drive down old 99 east of the freeway and stop to watch a rattlesnake, its belly swollen with some unlucky kangaroo rat, sunning itself in the middle of the pavement. Colin is amazed. He’s never seen a rattler. He takes many pictures of it, which will be on his MySpace before the next sun rises.

At Hilt, the charming, blue-collar remnant of that company town, we have the best malts and shakes I recall in many a moon and check out the cracker postcards, one showing a couple watching UFOs overhead and commenting, “darn, more Californians moving in.”

Down the Colestin Valley, we drop in on the Buddhist temple garden, spinning all the prayer wheels, making a joint wish for world peace and quietly marveling at the great, colorful statues of Buddha, White Tara, the female Buddha of compassion, long life, healing and wish-fulfillment and Green Tara, the female Buddha of enlightenment and liberation, towering above us. The heat bears down on us. We are silent. We take a movie of Hannah walking, young, lovely, down a corridor of spinning prayer wheels.

Climbing up to the ski road, we splash off in the cascading creeks. Colin makes a movie with the digital camera hanging by its strap out the car window, crazily spinning. We go into hysterics watching it, seeing our faces flashing by.  We swim in Emigrant Lake, which is almost too warm to be refreshing.  The thunderheads tower up madly in the heat, getting ready to unload their miles of lightning, one every second or two for hours, thrilling us.

We’re so lucky not to live in a big city, Hannah says. There’s so much to do, even in the middle of nowhere, the best place to be. You hand yourself over to it and let it find you. It always does.

John Darling lived in Ashland from 1971 until he died at age 77 in January 2021. A US Marine Corps journalist, he went on to write for the Oregonian, Mail Tribune, Daily Tidings, and United Press International, among others, along with stints as a news anchor at KOBI, executive assistant to the Oregon Senate President and press secretary of campaigns for Oregon governor and U.S. Senate. is, with permission, publishing monthly excerpts from his collection “The Divine Addiction: Essays Out of Oregon.”

Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Email him at

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