Chapter -21

21. Heading for the Barn

The next day I drove down into the northeast corner of Oregon. I stopped along the way to look at the Port of Lewiston, Idaho which is located on the Snake River and is accessible from the Pacific via the Columbia River. In one of my previous incarnations I had been much involved with ports, and marine container terminals in particular. The Port of Lewiston had such a terminal and I hadn’t seen it before. I once considered myself an expert on the design of such terminals, and I guess after you have penetrated a subject in great depth you never quite lose interest entirely.

I camped for the night at Wallowa State Park. It was rim rock country and my campsite was, as the title of the song goes, Under the Red Rim Rock. It was a delightful spot, right on the bank of a creek. The weather was warm with no mosquitoes to speak of, and I enjoyed seeing the stars at night. I decided to stay an extra day and set up my small, portable etching press to proof the plate I had been working on. The results were pleasing and that put me in a good mood.

I drove the length of Oregon the next day and ended up in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Lake Malhuer sits right in the middle of desert land and is surrounded by a large marsh. All kinds of birds were evident; egrets, cranes, ducks, coots, blackbirds, swallows, etc. I found a small dirt frontage road that ran by an old corral and was next to a hill or mesa. It was not a perfect camping spot because I could be seen from the main road, but it was such a picturesque spot that I stayed and did a sketch. There was almost no traffic at all so I decided to chance it and stay the night. In the evening a cacophony of bird calls could be heard coming from the marsh.

SE Oregon

SE Oregon

In the morning I was enjoying a cup or coffee while still in my sleeping bag and appreciating the scenery. I hadn’t bothered to draw the curtains because there was no one around. Then a flatbed truck drove by on the main road, one of only a few vehicles that had passed the whole time I had been there. The truck’s bed had side rails and it was loaded with over a dozen people. They looked to be migratory farm workers. The cab was also packed. When the truck reached the point where the dirt frontage road joined the main road it turned onto the frontage road and headed back toward me.

“Oh! Oh! I don’t like the looks of that,” I said under my breath. I jumped out of the bag in a panic, tried to dress as fast as I could. I was still pulling on my pants when the truck reached me and slowed to a crawl. A whole gang or swarthy faces leered, jeered, and laughed at my panic. But they did not stop. They continued on the dirt road till it rejoined the main road where they went on their way still laughing at their little prank. “Well, so much for enjoying my morning coffee,” I sighed.

After that, perhaps I was feelling a little unsetted, or maybe it was “heading for the barn,” I was anxious to see friends and family again. I got underway and just kept on driving. The miles rolled under the van’s wheels one after the other just as they had for the whole journey. The van had been a reliable and trustworthy companion. I did over 600 miles and made it all the way home.

As I drove I reflected on what an adventure it had been, and I felt lucky to have had such an opportunity. Physically my living space had been confined and efficient, but my mental space (read time) had been quite large. There is definitely something to be said for the mental freedom acquired from a simplified life style. A chance, for a least a little while, to gaze at “the big picture” free in large measure from the cares and responsibilities of a normally busy life. It was an experience that I was sure I would remember the rest of my life . . . a true pilgrimage.

Finally, I started out across the Golden Gate Bridge. At midspan I checked the odometer, it read 9233 miles. It was July 26,1986 at 8:28 PM. The Sun was setting to the west. I know it was my imagination, but I thought I heard a satisfied, almost feline purr come from the engine. “And Georgia,” I thought, “wherever you are, we hope you too still have reason to purr.”

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Monday, September 7th, 2009 Chapter -21 No Comments