Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Homeward Bound

With my son and two Oregon daughters, we set out on our last morning to compact as many of the varied landscapes and cultures of this large state as we could into a few hours. The day was gray and mild, but our spirits could not be dampened and the views were enhanced by the rapid hide and seek of sunshine and mists.

The first stop was Multnomah Falls, tourist destination of busloads and perfect post cards at the gift shop. It is the most spectacular sight along the way, cascading straight downwards, with access so easy we could walk and talk, waking up to the beauty around and in each of us.

So suddenly as we were in deep forests and plummeting crags of cliffs along the wide Columbia River, the trees dried up and disappeared and the steep walls of the Gorge were bare and shapely, imposing. My son’s camera clicked incessantly and his utterances awed by this landscape completely unimaginable to the Easterner.

We drove an hour east into the high country, canyons opening north and South away from the River. Just to say he set foot in the state, we crossed over to Washington and drove up the side of a mountain to a plateau, getting out at a monument imitating Stonehenge to walk some more and drink in the air, the apple orchards and river stretched out below us, giant wind turbines on the ridges above.

Back in Oregon, we drove south from the river base at 1000 feet to the plateau at 5000’ where the land rolls on forever, like a quilt on a bed, barren of trees but rich in wheat and alfalfa, miles between farms. Scrubs and tumbleweed, then dipping into a deep canyon. No cars, no people, few beef cattle, broken and rotting barns abandoned, tiny windmill pumps in the middle of nowhere, spinning in the dry wind. Miles and miles of fence that finally gave the context to my son of the joke about the Vermont farmer who listens to the Oregonian describe the several days it takes to circumnavigate his property, and the uncomprehending Vermonter answers that he once had a truck as slow as that.

A little sign was the only warning for our descent off the plateau four short miles down into the Deschutes River Valley. Two small lanes bending around outcrops and no guard rail over the 1000 foot precipice, we wound our way down, exclaiming around the dramatic turns and drop, and relieved to reach the bottom where we found Native American fishing platforms hanging over the rushing river.

Now moving westward again, the scrub grew into scraggly trees and on into straight, regally red Ponderosa pines, nearing the Cascades and the more fertile wetlands that grew out of the volcanic ash. We climbed higher once again into the massive mountains and deep forests, tribal lands, up onto the side of Mt. Hood, temperature dropping as we gained altitude, rose above the tree line, overcast skies beginning to spit.


Timberline Lodge had been a special place for my Oregon family, the magnificent structure built by the CCC of Roosevelt’s New Deal, a work of art that had hosted birthday and anniversary dinners for us, housed us while I wrote an article for Skiing magazine. In the Day Lodge, there were chairs with each of our names, and a photographic mural with our pictures. My daughters had learned to ski here.

The meal we had on this waning afternoon, including my son, was punctuation that a new chapter had begun in our lives, one of openness, joy, celebration and sharing; a father with his children, confident in our love and so very proud of the paths we are each currently on.

As I fly away today, fondling the piece of Italian marble picked up off the driveway/studio of the first and dearest friend I met arriving in Oregon so very long ago, the links with past, present and future seem so profound, yet difficult to articulate. I tried to come with heart wide open for adventure and insight, but without preconception or expectations. My work feels so poised on the verge of ecstatic satisfaction, opportunities abundant and exhilarating, yet so much of the stories and vistas here focused on an obscure and distant past: a fire and the death of an artist I had only known for six months.

Yet this intensive look at the past is really no surprise to me, who had glossed over the emotional losses of those events, being so swept up in the immediate repercussions of suddenly having a ready-made family to care for. This new energy of mine, so closely resembling the dreams and aspirations of the young naïve kid who first wandered onto the side of Neahkahnie Mountain, to release the constraints properly and move forward once more, this journey backwards had to be completed. Matured by these many years of hardships and ecstasies, sobered by the lessons of being side-tracked and distracted, it seems vital to sort through and discover what is worth keeping and what should be left behind.

That the Mountain holds a sacred and inspirational energy for me is undeniable, that a wealth of friendships are intact despite so much time is comforting, that I could be so freely and openly with my son and daughters is magnificent, but I do not feel urged to pack up and move out here. Rather, it seems more likely that dreams that regularly assailed me in my sleep over these many years may actually become a lifestyle in reality. Represented in the mode of a construction business which is all I could envision at the time, I dreamt that I settled from coast to coast regularly, a job lining up on one as another finished on the other, calling each place home and joyfully rediscovering the benefits of each periodically.

Lane and Tom’s acre serves as a magnificent retreat, her little T-house, “the Womb” , a place to linger and meditate, a place of rejuvenation as I have used it this week. Perhaps this change of focus from construction to writing and music will allow this, bring an impossible dream into fruition. In the meantime, I fondle my little piece of white marble chipped from one of my artist friend’s evolving sculptures, the jagged edges already smoothing from my finger’s caresses as it hides in my pocket and reminds me of the grounded inspiration I received this week in the Nehalem Valley, my place of peace.
Please share with your friends

4 comments:

Laurie said...

Impossible dream Kip? No way! All things are possible! I believe in your case they are very probable as well.

How can you be in those awesome places and remain in your skin? To say they are beautiful is shorting them on a worthy description. I think being at the falls would have been spiritual.

This trip was a turning point for you. A coming together of the past, present and the future in a way that that inspired and blessed you. Thanks for sharing your experience with us. Your living out your dream is motivating to me. Thanks....

I love how Sawyer is taller than you!

Hayden Tompkins said...

I just feel so much peace and connectedness coming from you, from your writing.

Zannah said...

It was an incredible trip! Can't wait to do it again soon. Love you sooo much!!!!

TheElementary said...

"a place to linger and meditate"- oh, my Spouse and I could use a trip like this right now. More than a physical journey, these kinds of experiences are much needed when life has rudely thrown you off track.
Wounds heal but the mind is far more fragile and requires a place of deep peace to reconnect.