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In the Umpqua backwoods lies peace, beauty and the Lighthouse

Southern Oregon’s backwoods communities continue to lure me. Each adventure invites another. I quite possibly could stay lost in the hills and vales all summer, living off of trout and small town hospitality.

I met my author friend Ann Shorey in her town of Sutherlin, just north of Roseburg. I know, it represents the outermost reaches of what constitutes southern realms, but I can’t resist including the pacifying Umpqua Valley hills in my travels (not to mention wineries yet to be discovered).

First, I down plenty of coffee and psyche myself up for the first hour north. Though I’ve driven this stretch for many years, with semis, mountain curves and congested traffic, the first leg is anything but relaxing. Brahms may have been a better choice than Huey Lewis on the stereo, but Fiona the Honda forged through the chaos, stopping at the Canyonville rest stop to breathe.

Ann waited at the second Sutherlin exit. From there, we headed west a short way on Highway 138 toward Elkton and the coast, then turned left onto Fort McKay Road. Our destination for lunch was Umpqua, an unincorporated area comprised mostly of a bakery. Well, that’s enough reason to make the trek, right?

Ann had mentioned the Lighthouse Bakery when meeting at Heaven on Earth in Quines Creek earlier this year. She said it ran on commune power, as in, the Lighthouse Family commune grows the veggies for the bountiful salads and sandwiches (on fabulous brick oven-baked bread) they serve there from 11-3.

The drive alone is worth the time unless peace and solitude send you screaming for techno babble. If you’re having a time untangling your nerve ends from Wednesday’s Independence Day free-for-all (my neighborhood doesn’t know when to put away the TNT and say nighty-night), these rolling farms, oaks and smiling cattle can settle the jitters. One of them may have waved at us. A tree, not a cow, silly.

Umpqua is a Native American word meaning “place along the river” or possibly “thundering or dancing water” (see correction, below). The Umpqua River flows a deep forest green this time of year, and is known for good fishing.

We owned the road, and a generous piece of paradise sprawled before us. Then we discovered where everyone in Umpqua had gathered in one convenient location — the Lighthouse Center Bakery.

I hate to admit when my jaw goes agape, it’s rather uncool. But when I saw the plain, mustard-hued building, which also housed the community post office, humbly sitting there with a parking lot so overflowing you’d have thought they were giving free massages, I was astounded.

The line of hungry hopefuls stretched out the door, and we joined them. Menu options there are vegetarian. The only meat you’ll find is grazing in a nearby pasture. Ann and I ordered a California salad, which is about the diameter of Lodi, for a mere $10. It comes with the bakery’s famous bread, which held the focus of many of those in line. I enjoyed the gluten-free variety with my organic greens, avocado and walnuts under Italian dressing.

Curiosity began nudging me to ask questions about the commune. I mean, a bakery/lunch joint out in the middle of nowhere and run by a commune wants investigating, but they were slammed. The woman said they had about 20-22 people actually living there. When I asked about growing all the vegetables for the restaurant, she replied, “Not any more. We’re all here.”

The salad was good and filling, but not the reason for the crowd. Bread spreads the tale, if you bake it delicious, they will come. Other, sweeter goodies lurked behind glass cases, but I managed to leave with my carb count intact — a little sad but a little smug, too.

The highlight of the afternoon was talking writing while lunching on their outdoor patio and getting chauffeured around the area and down by the river by my dear friend. Douglas County abounds with explorables. More adventures ahead.

Reach Eagle Point freelance writer Peggy Dover at pcdover@hotmail.com.

Correction: The Umpqua Indians are not a branch of the Coquilles, as was stated in a previous version.

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