Two Highways 97 and 31--Central Washington and South Central Oregon


Out of Yakima on 97 South. When Karen sees the wild horses in high outback to my left, I pull over to the shoulder of the road. As the automobile gained prominence in the early 1900s, horses were no longer essential to the Yakama nation, and many horses of all breeds were released on to the land. Feral horses migrated and reproduced—and reproduced in such numbers, that they’re now a threat to even the salmon, having overgrazed and survived in a hostile environment. Bunch grass has been replaced by invasive cheat grass. A solution remains as elusive as their sudden beauty.

The video camera sits between Karen and I. We’re twenty minutes from home. We’re sharing this 2-lane highway with trucks this morning, and the shoulder is too narrow to be safe. Trucks shake the mother ship, coming between us and the horses on the hills above us. I put the camera down. Looking at Karen before pulling back on the highway, I see two horses grazing in the ditch out the passenger window..

We’re listening to Joe Pug, his songs new to us, promising. Here it is close to home, this world of wonders. Some youngsters approaching 40 have sent him our way. He’s the real thing. Unplugged. Bright Beginnings, Burn and Shine, I Do My Father’s Drugs, and songs as hymns: Hymn #35, Hymn #76. Like that. I Do My Father’s Drugs would have me as the father, right? And the way I hear the song, and it’s a good one, the drugs are the wars we’re still carrying—Viet Nam being at the top of the list along with our entitlements, the most ecstatic of all being our generation’s hold on power.

Pug is confession, rejection and witness. “When freedom is routine…When every revolution is sponsored by the state……" In one line he sings, “I do my father’s drugs…I fight my father’s war…” In another, "When all the streets in Cleveland are named for Martin Luther King…” And this: "I've come to meet the Sheriff and his posse/ to offer them a broadside of my job..."

Big trucks, wild horses. Music. Riding with Karen. Goldendale in front of us, and then the descent to the Columbia, massive wind machines competing for our attention in the mythic landscape of the grand river. Crossing the river itself, and Oregon. 97 South is a scenic byway itself, most of the traffic following the Interstate into Portland. Here it’s Wasco, Kent, and the ghost town of Shaniko. We’re traveling parallel to the Deschutes River where I took our daughters river rafting on their 21st birthday. Then it’s the Metolius, and into Bend, stopping at High Desert Museum on the other side. We don’t stop at Newberry National Volcanic Monument, We’re here. We’re without children. We're without a dog. Saying this on paper stops composition.

The night before we leave, I go out to the Mothership after Karen has gone to bed. Parked and ready to go. I open the Mothership Log, different than the notebook, different than the small composition book in the back pocket of my Levi’s. Each notebook called here, giving me different access to different things. A different way of being with Karen, for one.

It’s Monday, opening day of baseball season. Mariners opened in Seattle with Félix on the mound. Felix, from the Latin, meaning happy. Moving into luck, too. The feminine is felicity. In medieval liturgies, Felix culpa, O Happy Sin. Scars of wear we’ve been. Worn with pride in Heaven, some say. This from a note in Belden Lane’s Backpacking with the Saints. Felix is on the mound against the Angels. He strikes out 10. Mariners win 4-1.

We’re on our way to Mammoth Mountain, California in the Sierra Nevadas to see Tim. Skis packed in Thule up above. A spring snow storm just dumped a ton of snow giving us the best conditions of the year in mid-April in the middle of a drought. We were to leave this morning but a granddaughter was sick, so we kept her. First day back from spring break for teachers and students. Yesterday was Easter. Chuck and his family her. Gave Chuck a shower last night. 36 days until he gets his new knee. It’s been a long haul since his surgery in January. Long way to go.

So many good things today because of the delay.

Two Fenton Johnson books arrived in mail. Both here. Keeping Faith: A Skeptics’s Journey Among Christian and Buddhist Monks, and an earlier memoir. Just read an important essay by him in April Harper’s. Xeroxed it for friends. Karen made gorgeous copies. Johnson begins with 15 lines of Whitman. “Facing West From California’s Shores:”
                But where is what I started for so long ago?
                And why is it yet unfound?

Chapter One. In Search of the Unfound. He begins at Merton’s monastery.

But the Mothership is about going it alone, and with Karen. Karen as much partner these days as muse. Partner and blessing. The Fenton Johnson article in Harper’s, The Dignity and Challenge of Going it Alone, is not about living the carefree life, but its opposite, and Johnson’s solitaries are Siddhartha Guatami under the Bodhi tree, Moses on the mountain demanding of God, Jacob wrestling with his angel, Judith with her sword blade raised over Holofernes, John baptizing in the Jordan, Jesus fasting in the wilderness and in the agony of the garden, Magdalene among watching women, and Basho setting out for the deep north—for starters.


She says, Turn here, and I say,
Which way? We’re not yet
 to streambeds.

Watching her
with her camera
and smart phone,
The merlin falcon,
built for taking birds
from the air,
hitting speeds
of 240 miles per hour—
yellow feet—
day-time birds
have feathered feet
to quiet their approach,
sacrificing a bit of speed
to cut the sound.
Cars and electricity
the great killers of birds.
This is Karen the witness.

She is winding water.
She is the stream dropping
into flat country,
swinging from side to side.
She is a twisting loop
of meanders. Not from here.
The River Menderes in Turkey.
Ancient rooted River Maiandros
to the Greeks, doubling back.
Karen the river orphan,
depositing on one side,
scouring on the other.

Here she is again,
photographing mare and foal,
barbed wire sculpture, witness
to trees: water, air, and sunshine,
needing only these, the mother-root.
Here she is still water
holding water to her breasts
for those who thirst.
I follow her
as I am able.
This is Karen turning us.
“Turn here,” she says,
and I say, “Which way?”

9 April—23 May, 2015

We stop for ice cream and butterscotch out of La Pine. School is in session, so the young woman at Dairy Queen must be older than she looks. In addition to the quart of soft serve, I ask for a cup of butterscotch sauce. What? she asks in disbelief. A cup of butterscotch sauce in a separate cup. For this evening in the mothership, I say. Butterscotch Sundays. She’s never heard of such a thing, she says. She says, I can’t do it.  I’m not asking for something for nothing, charge me a couple of bucks and ring it up. Oh my God she shouts to the short order cook behind her. “This didn’t happen,” she says handing me the sauce. She’s smoking a cigarette in her car when we drive off. I’m telling Karen about this. After dinner, camp set up, preparing the sundaes, I discover that the sauce she’s given me is for the dipping cones. One solid chunk of plastic-like butterscotch in a DQ cup that will never be poured over ice cream. The young woman proved to be right. This didn’t happen.


Karen has found another way.
Highway 31 bypasses Klamath Falls.
We don’t have to go back too far,
she says, and  I pull off

into a stand of trees
with room to turn around.
There it is to the right, she says,
followed by a State Highway sign,

Oregon Outback Scenic Highway.
Ribbon of asphalt, best experienced
by low speeds. We hit rain,
than snow, windshield wipers

working hard. High desert,
this great basin, one of the largest
in North America, harboring
inland sea during last ice age.

Built in 1932, 120 miles long,
the highway turns spring into winter.
We have clothes but don’t
want to put them on here.

Karen says, “I don’t like the way
you’re driving. You make me nervous.
You’re looking around.
Eyes everywhere but on the road.”

Crossing in and out
of national forests, we miss
as much as we see. Between Silver Lake
 and Valley Falls, the Mosquito Festival.

The handmade sign tells us, 
Slow Down to 45, Elk and Deer
Being Killed by Cars!
Karen wants to go even slower.

We’ll miss how the mosquito
got to Oregon, The Cowboy Dinner tree,
 “Ana’s Reservoir is up ahead.
We’re stopping. Chance of snow, 90%.”

April/1 June 2015


Debris falls around the circular cone
filling with water, until pressure
bursts open its southern wall.

Luther Cressman, archaeologist,
finds dozens of sagebrush sandals
dating from 9,000 to 13,000 years ago,

at that time, the oldest
Native American artifacts
found in the new world.

1 June 2015

Karen is telling me, “There are hot springs down the road.” My response: “I got you where you told me to go.” Ana’s Reservoir isn’t as large as it was before the drought. The zoom on the camcorder finds it. I hook up but later find the water’s frozen. We’ll find the hot springs in the morning before we stop for breakfast, but we won’t stop. Our hoses would have been frozen by morning. Lucky thing I check. I don’t always.

Brats and hot dogs on the portable Weber Grill. We’re the only ones in camp. I look through notes in notebook from earlier in the day. The meanders at High Desert Museum. “The river does two kinds of work. It transports water, and transports earthen freight. Extra energy is spent re-shaping its course.” Karen’s reading emails from home on her IPad. The wife of a friend has died. Our daughter adds up the vet bills. This has been a day of turning around to go another way
in the same direction. A day of stopping early. A no-where place. A best place. Hours of this before us. A place where we can say, “We left home this morning.”

This is how it is in the Mothership. This is how it is with Karen. Another day together. Karen’s connected, IPhone and IPad. In addition to books that ride with us always, Red Pine’s Cold Mountain, David Hinton’s Chinese Poetry Anthology, and Home Ground, as staples along with the notebooks, I pack a couple of books I’m working on at home, Jane Hirshfield’s Ten Windows with me tonight. “Our human attention has many ways of engaging the primary world in any moment—perception, identification, comparison, associated drift, memory, the attraction/aversion of fear and desire, the old evaluative habits of predator in the presence of prey.”

“That’s Summer Lake?” I ask. “That’s Summer Lake,” Karen says. “It’s almost dried up. We’re almost due east of Crater Lake."

We’re warm in the Mothership, I’m up at 0530 drinking a cup of coffee, writing in the notebook. A good night. Two layers of aluminum insulation I put down last summer sweeten our nights. These are 1/8” layers of aluminum insulation laid down in truck bed and underneath the mattress make a big difference in below freezing temperatures, and the furnace knows its cue. We get a night of winter camping and a snow storm on Tim’s Mountain. 10-20 inches of new snow on Mammoth in the middle of a drought. It’s dark and snowing. Mammoth Mountain another 500 miles or so.

And Jane Hirshfield in this morning’s notebook:

“…a supple, turning aliveness, the hawk’s swoop voracity of the mind when it is both precise and free.”

“…there is something entirely unshackled in each of these poets. You feel they could say anything from within the liberated energies of creative seeing.”

“Soft machinery of the dark. Fish in carts after being taken from their grand rooms.”

“…while writing a poet is unchained from sadness and free.”

How can I stop? And why would I want to?

It’s snowing and I’m in the cab. Ready to head for Mammoth Mountain and the Sierra Nevadas. Karen’s in the Mothership buttoning up. Courtesy of West Valley Library, I put in the first of two cds by Bill Frisell titled Mystery of Birth. This morning we will pass by the hot springs where tourists stop, where they’re advertising says, “…it’s eco-friendly and geothermal cabins warm your soul. Couples find time for one another while soaking in outdoor rock pools…a sacred place for serenity, healing and renewal.” A few miles past the hot springs, fresh snow falling, we’ll stop for a cattle drive, as cowboys on horses, drive the cattle across Highway 31. We won’t have stopped yet for breakfast in the Mothership.

Jim Bodeen
April—May—1 June, 2015

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