Tuesday, September 06, 2016

A few thousand miles through time

There is so much livestock in Oregon! The eastern part of this state, J had warned me, is nothing like the western. But for me there is no comparison between east or west or anything for that matter. I'm driving through Oregon, J knows, because there is no traffic; the only traffic we do see is livestock trailers. And wild hares crossing the road, big and brown. There is only land and sky and the hares, in fact. Once or twice we see passing motorbikes and a car, and it seems like a grand social occasion. 

Soon we are driving alongside a lake. A rather large one which we discover is called Lake Abert; it looks morose, with the big gray clouds fallen across its face. This is another change from L.A: that gray substance covering the sun. Clouds. What a strange meteorological phenomenon we are witnessing! Time also seems strange here, like it is not passing at all; we ourselves are merely passing through physically on a ribbon of road and that is all.

Snake River lookout
Then Idaho appears, much to my elation. We stop for lunch at what has to be one of the more scenic rest stops in the country: It overlooks the famous Snake River, has a dormant volcano in the background, and is so clean and staffed with such friendly folk that we wonder if we have actually entered another dimension. We chat with the staff for a bit; I spot an Idaho license plate bearing the merry inscription, "Famous Potatoes!" This looks to be my kind of state. 

It changes not long after this though, into something more dramatic. We are now in the Payette national forest. There is a dense pine forest on either side of a cliffy road, the Selway River is flowing dark and foamy beneath us, and a thin but assertive fog is circling the trees. Witches should be appearing, uttering incantations, anytime now. 

Regrettably, none do. What we do spot is human campers along the river, some with little fires going in spite of the damp: Fresh fish for a late lunch? One tent is absurdly precarious; its owner sits staring blankly at the dark water, a dog sleeping at his side. We wonder what he is recovering from. It's all so beautiful that we feel compelled to take a break just outside of a settlement called Riggins, nothing more really than a clutch of houses and a business or two slapped down on a bend in the river. The cliffs at our stop loom darkly, the sky is gray, and the water is a curious graphite-dark. Still, the overall effect is not one of menace; on the contrary, we feel joyous and giddy, slurping on our coffee and prancing along the whitish pebbled shores of the river.

I have amassed more names for my delightful names collection today: A town called Plush, Stinking Water Creek, Tattletale Lane (would I ever live there?) and the most prized, Skookumchuck Lookout. These gems make the name of our night-stop town pale in comparison: It's called, sedately, Grangeville. The view we get from our cheery little room, though, is anything but sedate. There is the full spectacle of colored cloud and sharp horizon. We settle down on the front porch to watch; to our far right, a tiny house stands under a particularly candy-violet strip of sky, young trees waving in the front.

We also take the mandatory walk through town while the sky is still changing color. It feels like a postcard for a bygone age: the golden America that is lost in much of the actual country. A spiffy-looking barbershop makes J regret having had his hair cut in L.A; two drivers in well-worn pickups peer at us openly as they pass. A big sign is strung across the main street, urging us to attend the upcoming Quilt Show. An old-style gas pump stands forlornly outside an antique shop. We are too late to browse though, because local businesses clearly close at 5 pm. (We think of the eternal fluorescent lights of even the copy shop back in our trendy L.A. neighborhood and feel far removed.)

Later we raise a toast to our friend to the last of the sunset's colors. I feel stricken since I have looked at his status on the chat app we used to use to talk over the last 18 months. It says, "Sleeping." 

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I laughed out loud at the reference to hares and the "social occasion"...beautifully written.

I loved the imagery that came to mind when you referenced the witches...I envisioned them appearing, wringing their hands in delight at the two unsuspecting travels. I was sad when none appeared...it seemed so appropriate the way you described it.

I must say that you must be an amazing person to travel with on a road trip. Based on your writing the world just comes alive and you capture it perfectly...

Anonymous said...

"A thin but assertive fog is circling the trees..." I like this line. Almost like Tom Waites.

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