Anthropomorphizing: The Bus Edition


July 8th, Russian Gulch State Park


How does the sun rise in the forest? Like we roll: slowly. First the birds, just like at home, smaller ones trilling, crows having a discussion, the occasional blue jay chiming in. The light here in this grove is almost imperceptibly changing, but now I can see a little more. I’m sitting at the picnic table thinking about all the picnic tables I’ve known in campsites, tables where I have made art, read books, laughed, talked, and eaten many a fine meal (and some lazy meals). There is something deeply comforting in the rituals of camping. This red enamel cup that holds my coffee is part of a set my “Beast” friend gave us for our wedding, and I never use them without thinking of her and thanking her again.

This morning I am thinking about anthropomorphizing, something I’ve mentioned in passing but would like to explore further, here. For those who know these stories or simply aren’t interested in the twists and quirks of my mind, feel free to skip ahead, but for those who don’t know “The Ballad of Orangey D’Orangey,” read on.

In thinking about the origins of this issue, I lighted on Tree Tree as the first, although I do remember a story wherein I asked my mother about my security blanket, Pinko (who was brown due to an encounter with some brown pants in the wash), about the location of Pinko’s mouth. But Ambriel named Tree Tree, and I know this because she was given to double names, while I preferred the –ey sound (witness Ursie, Ollie, and Squishy). Tree Tree was next to the house in Ashland, just under my window, and he wasn’t even really a tree, just a very old and overgrown bush, a yew, I believe. But when a child climbed inside Tree Tree it had gnarled limbs of surprising strength, a leafy canopy, and it was roomy. Tree Tree was the perfect “tree” for children because while it (he) wasn’t tall, there were plenty of thick branches that would bear our weight, and once you climbed into the tree you were both unseen and given a tree’s eye view of the world. Hidden by the waxy, green leaves, I could see out to the front yard and over the garage.

We liked to pretend that Tree Tree was an airplane, and for some reason I always wanted to be the stewardess. Tree Tree, the Bus, and the Gazebo (not really a gazebo) were the boundaries of our known childhood world at my house in Ashland, the places we played in and imagined. My imagination easily transformed each of them into magical spaces. That was childhood, to me: being able to see what was hidden and remaking it in my mind. To this day I remember where Big Greenie, one of the grasshoppers we caught and “trained” to swim is buried on the path by the side of the house, and I can still almost recall how a stewardess serves drinks in a Tree Plane.

My tendency towards imagination was pronounced when I was a little girl, and one of the clearest manifestations of this was in my obsession with inanimate objects. My mother once found me burying lollipop sticks to grow a lollipop tree, and I couldn’t bear to eat a chocolate Easter Bunny. We had several stored in the fridge in Ashland from previous Easters. Full disclosure: I did often eat parts of the bunnies, like their toes, but I could never bear to destroy their dear, sweet faces.


Rolling with the Ursie Bear

Then there was the year I fell in love with the Christmas tree. I wouldn’t let my mother throw it away, and by July, it stood outside our apartment door, brittle and brown, transformed from the tree I had loved but still precious to me.

Things took a turn for the worse when I fell in love with my pet orange, Orangey D’Orangey. My mother did not have pets when I was little, and Orangey D’Orangey was my substitute, I suppose. He was my heartfelt desire for a pet or a friend manifested in an ordinary orange. I made him a house out of a shoebox and “clothes,” although the latter term should be used loosely Imagine an orange wearing a diaper held on by tape and you get the idea. Eventually, like the Christmas tree, natural processes took over with Orangey D’Orangey. His once supple and bright orange skin grew leathery, and my mother, upon finding a dried up orange in her daughter’s room, threw him away.

But Orangey D’Orangey was not my last such friend. On a trip to the Oregon coast in the bus, I made a new friend, Kelpie. Kelpie was a piece of bullwhip kelp I discovered on the beach near where we were camped. I played with Kelpie for hours, awed at his great power to whip through the air and “swim” in the ocean. When it came time to leave, unbeknownst to my father, I snuck Kelpie into the compartment under the bench seat in the back of the bus where I was riding. The coast road back from the beach, the one Robert and I drove just days ago, winds along the Smith river and gets hotter and hotter as you move inland, culminating in Grants Pass, or as Ariana remembers it from her childhood, “the hottest place on earth.” A Christmas tree, like an orange, dries out, but bullwhip kelp has a very high water content. Along Highway 1 near San Simeon there are beaches where great masses of kelp was up, and the smell of it as it decomposes is unmistakable. “Sea fart!” Robert and I always say when we pass one of them. So as we wound our way home on that long ago trip, moving slowly for that’s how the bus rolls then and now, a certain odor began to fill the bus.

When we stopped for a roadside lunch, my father caught a whiff. “What’s that smell? “ he asked. I just shrugged my shoulders, pretending innocence. By the time we were approaching Grants Pass, there was no ignoring the smell of rotting kelp. My father pulled the bus over on the side of the road and opened the back doors, hunting for the culprit. I sat on the bench seat, watching him sniff various items.

“What the hell is it?” he asked. Finally, I slid off the yellow seat and pointed. It’s my friend, Kelpie,” I said. We drove off in a rush of gravel, Dad not speaking to me, and left Kelpie by the side of the road, where for many years I was able to picture him and feel sad at his demise.


One of the reasons I knew Robert was the right man for me was a story his mother told me when we were first dating. Apparently Robert came to her as a young boy and asked her to pin socks to his shoulders. She complied, but she asked why. “They’re my wings,” he informed her. I knew when I heard that story that Robert was the right man for me.

Perhaps there’s some great lesson here about not getting attached to things, or at least to things that rot and decay, or perhaps these are just quirky stories that help explain my later attachment to inanimate objects, but I was thinking about them as I tried to imagine how to describe the Bus’s gender, name, and face.

When we started to realize that this trip was really going to happen, Robert asked about the Bus’s name and gender. “It’s name is the Bus, “ I said, “And he’s a boy.” Robert told me the Bus should have a proper name, but I told him no. Just a week ago he asked my father the same question and my father flatly replied: “His name is the Bus.” Now as we drive Robert talks to him, telling him he’s a good boy.

As for the Bus’s face, I always loved it. There are pictures of me hugging the Bus, and I used to shyly kiss his snout, something I find myself doing even now, just another link back to the child I once was. His split windows are his eyes, the VW icon his nose, and his bumper seems to be his mouth. When we unfolded the tent top for the first time two nights ago, I realized something else: the bus reminds me of my dad.


Of course, I associate the bus and all things bus related with my father—that’s part of the point of writing all of this—but his physical resemblance only occurred to me on this trip. Just as people who are married for many years start to look alike, or an owner may resemble a pet (although I hope I don’t look like Joey the Chihuahua), so too does it seem to me now that my father’s long relationship with this car may have changed things. In the 70’s my father was so connected to the Bus that it is almost as though the Bus is imbued with certain qualities of my father. The first time we opened the top, which opens differently than most busses sold in the US, forming a triangular tent, I smiled when I saw it, red and white stripes just as I remembered. The Bus’s gentle face was transformed. “It’s like a party hat,” I told Robert. But what really struck me and I will struggle to describe is how having the tent open reminded me that my father—like the bus—has a silly side. I even have a picture of Dad wearing a headband with antenna attached—for those alive in the 8o’s, I think these were called “Deelie Boppers” (no Google here, sorry), and that’s what the bus looks like here in the campsite, a little bit like a serious bus (and he is), but also a little bit like a man wearing a ridiculous party hat and smiling anyway, as though he knows all about the joke, finds it mildly ridiculous, and is laughing all the same.

All of this is a very long way of trying to say I never want to lose touch with the child I once was, and for many years I have struggled to get back to who I used to be before I rushed to grow up. This trip and the bus are integral to that project, and being able to share the experience and the memories with Robert make it all the more special. I know Dad will likely object to my saying he has ever been silly; I can hear him even now rejecting the idea that the Bus would ever wear a party hat, but then I look over and see the Bus, and I know he doesn’t mind. He thinks I’m weird, but it’s OK.



The Bus in Mendocino village.

Look, Dad, we got the club and we are being very careful, so don’t worry!


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