Rollin' on the river

This summer our friends back East have finally discovered that where we live is a very cool place to visit.

My wife and I have made a number of trips across the Rockies to see friends and relatives and now they are returning the favor. We couldn't be happier. We delight in sharing the place we love with the people we love.

Our most recent visitors came from Chicago. Laurie and my wife have known each other since they were 12. Both women wisely married brilliant and handsome young men named Richard. Both marriages occurred within months of each other over three decades ago.

The two husbands became friends; Richard enjoyed meeting Richie, an attorney with a sense of humor, and Richie enjoyed meeting Richard, a guy who likes musicals. The two couples kept in touch and watched their own and each other's children grow and get married.

And now there they were, Laurie and Richie, standing in our living room for the first time.

They had four days to spend with us before flying home, so we rolled out the red carpet. Dinner out on Thursday after they arrived. Friday night we took them to see "Taming of the Shrew' at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Friday we walked in the hills and around town. That night we went to the Oregon Cabaret Theatre for dinner and to see "Smokey Joe's Café." A drive up to Mount Ashland and a barbecue at home Saturday. On Sunday, we went white-water rafting on the Rogue River.

Having company makes you realize just how blessed you are. First, that you have friends who enjoy spending time with you. And second, that you live in such a remarkable place, a place whose treasures you can experience anew through your friends' eyes.

They loved our restaurants and ice cream places. They loved our house and the view we have of the valley. They loved our dogs. They loved our town and they loved its shops and theaters.

When they got out on the Rogue, they loved the extraordinary beauty and reflective quiet of the places we rolled past on our rubber raft.

Sitting in front of the four of us on the raft was a young couple, married only a few years. They had just moved to our area from New York City and, like our friends, were falling in love with it with each new discovery.

We all compared notes about places we had lived and places we had traveled to. Places like Tahiti, Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, Japan and Europe. It turned out that we were all dog lovers, too.

And we enjoyed the theater.

Richie and Laurie recounted their experiences the previous nights at the Shakespeare Festival and the Cabaret. They raved about the Festival's production of "Taming of the Shrew" which I had already done when I suggested that they see it.

It's the most even of this season's productions. Everything works. It moves along briskly and is in extremely capable hands from directing to acting, lighting, sound and scenic design. What's not to like?

Well, there is the story and its forays into sexist territory known to provoke screaming fits from feminists. Without changing a word, director Kate Buckley and her Petruchio (Michael Elich) and Katherina (Vilma Silva) made it very clear that this marriage was built on love and respect and would endure long after the curtain came down.

Richie and Laurie had seen "Smokey Joe's Café" in Chicago and found the Oregon Cabaret production every bit as good, if not better. Great singing and dancing and a lot of feel-good high energy.

Ashland being Ashland, we saw one of the "Smokey Joe's Café" cast members downtown when we went to pick up our photos from the rafting trip. We gushed about how much we loved the show and he beamed as he thanked us.

When our little raft pulled into the area where our trip on the river ended, everyone felt a little sad. It seemed all too short. Richie and Laurie's plane left early the next morning and my wife and I started missing them long before they became airborne. Like the raft trip, their visit had been wonderful and all too short.

Funny how time flies when you're having fun. And right here at home.

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