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

20. Going South

The ferry trip between Whittier and Valdez was punctuated by a short side trip to the Columbia Glacier which comes right down to the sea and breaks off or “calves” icebergs. It must be miles wide at the face and 200 feet high. On the floating ice in front of the face could be seen hundreds of harbor seals Sunning themselves. The ferry, E.L.BARTLETT, moved right in close pushing ice floes aside as it went. You could hear them scraping along the hull. At about 10:00 PM the Sun was still up but low in the sky, it cast a golden, slanting light over the whole scene. The visual impact was stunning.

“The Sun was shinning on the sea

Shinning with all his might:

He did his very best to make

The billows smooth and bright

And this was odd, because it was

The middle of the night.”

Lewis Carrol

The Walrus and the Carpenter

This was probably the most spectacular of many spectacular sights that I saw in Alaska.

Arriving in Tok on July 12th completed a big loop inside Alaska. Unfortunately, I arrived on a Saturday and had to wait until Monday to pickup my mail, but I found a KOA with shower! laundry! and car wash! so I was able to get everything reset to zero again before continuing south.

I also checked on the Tok fire station as a favor to Dot Bardarson. She had sold several watercolors to the State of Alaska to be hung at that location and asked me  to see if they were actually on display. They were, indeed, prominently displayed in the station’s office and the staff was highly complimentary. I mailed a postcard to Dot with this news. We artists need our positive feedback.

I was limping about my campsite in Tok when I noticed the couple at a camp site nearby had a rig identical to mine. It was the same year, color, everything. Naturally, we had to compare notes and we were soon chatting away in a friendly fashion. I said I was from Palo Alto when he inquired and he said he had spent time there while attending the University. At that time my daughter, Deanna, was attending Stanford, and I had a cousin on the faculty, so we had more to talk about than just our vans. In addition, we had both been discharged from the service (marines in his case) at Treasure Island in San Francisco. It turned out he was a doctor (Gaylord Clark, M.D.) and an orthopedic surgeon.

I don’t believe in miracles and think the vast majority can be explained simply as low probability events or coincidence. But if I did this would certainly qualify. After all what is the probability that I would run into an orthopedic surgeon in the wilds of Alaska two days after a serious knee sprain. I told him what had happened to my knee and he gave it the once over. “Yes, you’ve got water on your knee all right and its probably going to be a while before its fully recovered.” Of course, there was nothing that could be done under the circumstances other than a superficial diagnosis.

He was certainly right about the time required to heal. I drove all the way back from Alaska with my left foot working the pedals and my right leg stretched out on the passengers side. Even after returning, I slept for several months with a pillow under my right leg to keep my knee flexed, and twenty years later, as I complete this writing project, I still feel occasional little twinges from that knee.

On July 15th I crossed the Yukon River again. That made three times we had met up at three widely separated locations. David Cornberg told me you are supposed to urinate (euphemism) in the Yukon. Its part of the mystique of the country to mix your waters with that great river, its traditional. . .  I honored the tradition.

This third meeting took place in Canada’s Yukon Territory, beautiful country. I was learning to identify the trees that grow in the far North; white spruce, willows, alders, aspens, birch, and cottonwoods. There are others but these seem to predominate. I camped for the night at Teslin Lake which is long and narrow and parallels the Alaskan Highway for a considerable distance. Very few people lived in that region. I imagine its pretty severe in the winter, and in July, I can tell you, the mosquitoes are out in full force.

At this point, I spent a lot of time studying maps to decide which way to go after my mail call at Prince George. The distances were much greater than I had realized. All the miles covered by ferry on the way up now had to be traversed on the road. I could go more or less straight south and connect with I-5 at the Washington State border, but I’d been down I-5 several times before and I wanted to see something different. The other choice appeared to be the Yellowhead Highway toward Calgary.

On the 18th I finally got off the Alaskan Highway and onto Hudson’s Hope Loop. It ran through the scenic Peace River Valley. Here the land was pastoral interspersed with forest. I found a spot down by the river in a steamy, lush, bucolic setting. Because of a noticeable lack of mosquitoes, I got out my shorts and decided to chop some wood for a campfire that a previous party had left. I was working with my shirt off to get some Sun, and as soon as I set to work, a cloud came over and it started to rain. “Okay,” I thought, “I’ll wash the van instead.” But no sooner had I got out my brush and started to work than it stopped raining, and remained cloudy, very perverse weather. It was still warm so I limped down to the river with my wastepaper basket. I figured if I could take a bath out of a plastic basin the van could get washed out of a plastic wastepaper basket. It’s definitely the hard way to wash a van and took a number of trips. I did manage, however, to get enough of the Alaskan Highway off that I could once again see its deep rich brown.

I arrived in Prince George, B.C. on Sunday, July 20th and decided to stay at a KOA in order to get a shower and do some laundry. At this point I started to experience some night again. I could see stars, but even so there was still a dull glow to the north at midnight like the loom of a large city.

I picked up some mail the following day and then headed east on the Yellowhead Highway to connect with the Icefields Parkway through Jasper and Banff National Parks in the Canadian Rockies. The scenery between Jasper and Banff is spectacular! It was well worth going a few extra miles to see. The Canadian Rockies are definitely the real thing! I had hoped that Banff would have some galleries. When I arrived, my first impression was of a tourist spot on the order of Carmel, California, but with a Rocky Mountain setting. The setting is beautiful, however, there are no galleries. Except for the museum, there were only a few gift shops and native craft outlets that called themselves galleries, none of the real thing. I looked in a phone book but there were no yellow pages. I hiked all over town until my knee hurt so much I had to stop. Then I drove around some more. I still don’t understand why, but it had been the same story in Jasper. One reason I had decided on this route was the prospect of some needed art sales. Expenses were ahead of income again and this time they were way ahead.

In the morning I got into a driving mood. Walking was still painful. I drove 450 miles and crossed the border into the USA at the panhandle of Idaho. Immediately after crossing the border I ran into a storm. What a welcome home. . . thunder and lightning, rain, hail, and wind! But I kept on and soon my traveling companion the Sun came out again. There is a not so subtle difference between the two sides of the border at this crossing. The Canadian side is mainline B.C., but the U.S. side is backwoods Idaho. Another difference was the prices. I had dinner in Bonner’s Ferry, Idaho for half what it would have cost in B.C. even considering the exchange rate.

Driving down #95 through a series of small towns I began to notice the churches. I saw Mennonite, Seventh Day Adventist, Pentecostal, and Southern Baptist. With the possible exception of the last, these are not exactly main stream denominations. A number had signs in front announcing the subject of the next sermon. There was a strident quality to these messages very unlike the gentle faith of the farming couple from Nebraska. Then there was the large billboard that read:


All of this, together with the fact I had just entered the U.S. from a foreign country, started me thinking about the parallels between interpersonal and international relations. The eventual result can be read here.

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Monday, September 7th, 2009 Chapters 11 — 20 No Comments