While Winnie Cooper waits in a heated bay at a large RV shop in McMinnville, Oregon, I take our rental car south to Amity, Oregon, to see Floyd Skloot.
Floyd and his wife live in a pretty round home on 20 acres, due east of Amity, a tiny burg with one gas station and one feed store.
I twist and turn up a hilly road through farm and ranchland (and vineyards), and turn down Skloot's driveway. Heavy stands of trees crowd in, providing a lovely green canopy as I travel the 1/5 of a mile to the house. I stand and stare into a long, beautiful valley that sweeps away from me. I spot Floyd through one of the large windows and I head inside.
Floyd Skloot and I talk on the first floor of the house in a lovely small office with a window that opens into a heavily wooded area. Often during the conversation Floyd points outside at the view. He's not pointing to a scene in particular; he's simply referencing what is apparent: this place is beautiful. It's a peaceful place, dead quiet, and richly arrayed by nature.
In 1988, Skloot entered a terrifying and confusing new world after a virus created permanent brain damage. He reclaimed the ability to read, speak, and write, and now lives with the damage, helping himself by noting things on slips of paper that he knows his damaged brain might lose the next day. (The remarkable story of his illness is in the award winning memoir, In the Shadow of Memory.)
But during my visit, Skloot is charming, funny, insightful, and he energetically talks about his work. He grew up in Brooklyn and then on a barrier island near Long Island, NY. His early poetry is full of those images, as his most recent work full of his adopted home of Oregon.
His illness limits the hours he can work effectively. So the work comes out more slowly. But it matches the pace of the life here. He motions out the window again. He knows he's distant from the publishing and academic worlds, but he learned years ago that it didn't matter. As a younger man he was a long distance runner, covering 50 miles a week on his own through dense parks. He's always gone on his own paths at his own pace. He travels distances now, too, in his work, back through the maze of his chaos-wracked memory. But he wrings what he finds into fine and beautiful language.
After we're done chatting, we shoot some photos upstairs while we visit with Skloot's wife. She's shot all of the author photos for his books and while I take my turn to aim and fire, Skloot tells me that when he looks at the old photos he can watch himself age. His beard is brown in the earliest photo; it gets more and more gray as time goes by. When I'm done, putting my cameras away, I look up for one last view out the window, and I catch a moment not intended for me. Floyd smiles warmly at his wife, and she back. If you're going to grow old, this is a good place for it to happen.
We say our goodbyes and I go out to my car alone, past two sweet cats. I shoot a couple of shots and get into the car.