The way to Roman Nose

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OF course, there really is a good road and we found it two summers ago. That day while we stood in the shallow end of the old quarry pond we watched bright red crayfish propel themselves across the silt-covered rock and out of our reach. Above our heads the man-made cliffs went up to the firs against the sky. This was a high quarry, the better part of 3,000 feet above the nearby Pacific. The view to the west was spectacular, but when we came back the following December, climbing through the familiar rain of the Oregon coast, the view was missing and we never noticed. A few hundred feet below the summit of Roman Nose and its quarry the rain changed to snow -- thick, driving snow that coated every tree and bush and blade. Our trusty four-wheel-drive took us steadily up and into the kind of beauty that makes conversation unnecessary. We ate our sandwiches in the pickup and listened to the busy quiet. Then we drove back down the mountain and wrote Christmas cards about not having to shovel the rain.

Since then we haven't found the way again to Roman Nose. This sounds pretty silly, because we haven't moved and neither has the mountain. The problem is a combination of weather, the Forest Service, and the Bureau of Land Management. Of course, for several months we weren't even looking for it. Our local National Forest kept us happy with its myriad side roads running along razorback ridges and around corners for a glimpse of a black bear disappearing into the wild rhododendrons or twin fawns wobbling after their mother or -- once -- two very young bobcats who instantly ran up not-big-enough alders and then seemed to be signaling each other. ``This isn't what mother told us to do!'' They slid to earth and vanished into the ferns. Another day we came to a stop in front of a mother quail who never left her post on the road until her little brood was safely into the salal and hidden from us. She was a quail who didn't.

Quite a few times we were ``on the way.'' At least that's what we told friends who asked. ``On the way to Roman Nose'' was where we hunted for the small, sweet blackberry that grew along the ground and over moss-covered logs and made such special pies. ``On the way to Roman Nose'' led also to the secret patch of Oregon grape. The jelly was deepest red and so tart that grown men shuddered but asked for more. And on-the-way included huckleberries by the pan, pail, or preserve kettle-full. These brought attention to waffles, muffins, pies, jellies, ice cream -- so much so that we never really got beyond being on the way until fall.

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Then one day when the vine maple flamed against the October sky we set out for all-the-way. We couldn't find it. And we couldn't find it in November when low clouds filled the draws below the razorback ridges and tangled in the tops of the big Douglas firs. The way was lost in a maze of crossroads and look-alike areas. Why? we'd ask and stab at the map with ``Roman Nose'' plainly printed on it if we used a magnifying glass. We ate our sandwiches on substitute heights and said it didn't matter.

We should have noticed long before we did. The map. Our map. It was no longer the right edition. The Forest Service had changed the numbers on its neat little brown wooden signs placed at the entrances and forks of its access roads. Certainly ``4880-912'' could be all-important to somebody who perhaps has a permit to cut a little firewood there. So we were out of date and full of wrong numbers. But that wasn't the entire problem. The directional signs were all missing. They were never too plentiful, but now they appeared to have been gathered up and lugged off. It had to be a project. Inside stuff for the winter. ``Jones, you get Smith River, Goodwin Peak, and don't forget Roman Nose. They all need redoing.''

Actually Roman Nose was on beyond Forest Service land and in Bureau of Land Management territory, but its signs appeared to be missing, too. ``Time to get everything shipshape, men!''

Meanwhile the shape of Roman Nose was lost in fogs and overcast and we were lost on roads of adventure. But who could complain when waterfalls cascaded once more down vertical drop-offs that summer had left dry and waiting? Odd how often we had to wash our hands under the cold splash. And what about the time we found, not Roman Nose, but the once-farm now swallowed by the National Forest? The one with the ancient apple orchard? Skinned bark showed where the elk rubbed their antlers and an enormous, towering holly showed where the old house must have stood because beside it was an old lilac bush. Where else would a lilac bush be planted except by the front porch?

The way to Roman Nose? We are in no hurry. We want those signs done right.

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