Obit For Jolson: And A Few Words About The Central Oregon Coast

The Seattle Times
December 8, 1999
By Alex Tizon

YACHATS, Oregon – My brother Art’s dog, Jolson, lies buried 3 miles south of here in a place called Neptune State Park. He was a German shepherd mix and, like his owner, a Southern California soul: slightly shaggy, slightly wild, and blessed with an uncanny stage presence. He was nine years old when he died under mysterious circumstances (possibly from poisoning) in the back yard of my brother’s home in California. Art had Jolson cremated and the ashes placed in a small cedar box that he carried in his car for months while searching for a place to bury it.

Then, while doing film work along the Oregon coast in the summer of 1994, he stumbled upon Neptune State Park, and he knew instantaneously it would be Jolson’s final resting place. This past fall, while planning my own trip to the Oregon coast, I told my brother I wanted to pay my respects. I had always liked Jolson, always regarded him as part of the family, and Art’s description of his burial place piqued my interest.

It was a six-hour drive from Seattle. I found a place of immense beauty, both dramatic and peaceful at the same time. In a short space, within a sweep of the eyes, the landscape from east to west went from rugged mountain to lush forest to rocky crag to swirling, churning ocean. White settlers saw this place and named it after the Roman god of the sea. The park covers 302 acres and over 2 1/2 miles of coastline along both sides of Highway 101, and a lot of it is wilderness.

There are three developed areas — places with picnic tables, barbeque pits and vault toilets. Two of the areas sit on each side of Cummins Creek as it flows into the sea after its descent from steep rain forests. The third is Strawberry Hill, to the south, where you’ll find great tide pools, if you’re into that kind of thing. A nice trail leads from the parking lot to the beach. The beach is a mix of cobble rock with sand closer to the water’s edge. The water is rough and tumble, loud and happy. Like a lot of the Oregon coast, this stretch of sand and forest merges with other parks and wilderness areas. It’s impossible to know when one ends and another begins. A number of trails begin or pass along or loop through the park, leading to a dozen other places.

East of Neptune, across the highway, lies the Cummins Creek Wilderness, which covers 9,300 acres of gorgeous rain forest. South of Neptune are several other beaches worth seeing — Ponsler Beach and Stonesfield Beach to name a couple. North is the 2,700-acre Cape Perpetua Scenic Area, which arguably is the most beautiful stretch of wilderness on the state’s central coast. The highlight is the view from 800-foot-high Cape Perpetua, from which you can see 150 miles to the north and south, and almost 40 miles (on a clear day) out to sea.

To get to the top of the cape, you drive along Oregon’s highest paved public road along the coast. Before you make this ascent, it would be good to stop off at the Siuslaw Forest Visitor Center, where rangers can tell you about the various sights and trails. The 1.3-mile Saint Perpetua Trail climbs from the visitor center up the south face of the cape. Nearby, starting in Neptune, a section of the Oregon Coast Trail travels another 1.3 miles through the park and connects to the Gwynn Creek Trail and the Captain Cook Ridge Trail.

My brother did not need to hike long to find a spot for Jolson’s ashes. Following his directions, I parked my car in the middle section of Neptune, on the south side of Cummins Creek. There was only one other car and not a person in sight. Near the parking-lot entrance, a trail on the left led into a thick grove of Douglas fir. Branches above created an almost impenetrable canopy. Entering felt like walking into night.

I hiked about 50 yards in and found two towering firs on a mound of dark earth. I stood right on top of the hump and could see glimpses of surf through branches and shrubs. I could certainly hear the ocean. There was nothing else to hear; the sound was deep and rumbling, like boulders rolling down a mountain. This is where Jolson was laid to rest. His ashes were part of Neptune now. I imagined rains had carried some of his remains through the earth and into the ocean where waves carried them to who knows where — maybe back to Southern California where he was happiest. Hope all is well, Jolson. Art misses you.