Wednesday, February 25, 2009

When I Left Alaska: Anchorage 1983

In late May, Brock and Matt drove over from Iowa City in Matt's little red Chevy Vega to Des Moines so that we could drive to Alaska. I had gone to Des Moines to spend some time with my parents and Urbandale friends before I left for that summer of supposed adventure. But as we set out, heading across the U.S. West to Seattle (Brock's hometown, essentially) I could tell there was something wrong.
Something amiss.
I started my first journal of my life for this trip. In my own odd, idiosyncratic scribbling script, I wrote down the events and thoughts and feelings of the trip to Alaska. (And I kept an ever-changing journal since then.)
Yes, I enjoyed very much the stop at Matt's house in Sioux City where we stayed at his parents' house and met them and his Mom was sweet and her long time dog dies the morning we left (and where they gave me Matt's younger brother's sleeping bag to use--his younger brother having died by self asphyxiation.) then the drive west across South Dakota (my birth state) to Devil's Tower in Wyoming, the camping in the snow in the Bighorns outside of Buffalo, the long long drive across Montana with a stop in Deer Lodge and having a beer at a funky old-time saloon, the drive into Missoula and Lolo and into Idaho and stopping for gas after the curvy mountain drive in Lewiston, the camp in eastern Washington along the Snake River where the sprinklers came on and heavily wetted our tent, the drive into Oregon along the Columbia River and stopping at the Dalles where some guy with about three young kids laid back in his van and was making out big time with his wife, the stop at the big falls along the interstate before Portland, then the stop in Vancouver, Washington where I had lived as a boy, then to Brock's parent's big house in the Seattle suburb Redmond (Brock was from Bellevue next door). It was great, yet, something was missing. I felt it.
And after a day or two at Brock's house--the visiting and buying of camping gear (including a tent) in downtown Seattle, we packed and took off for Alaska via the highways of British Columbia and the Yukon. Again, it was great. We camped everywhere we stopped, up to Prince George and the decision to take the smaller, Pacific western rout rather than the Alcan Highway. the camping in Provincial Parks where there was no one else, just the wind through the trees and camp smoke. The drive north, up and up along mostly gravel two-almost-one lanes, roads along glacial lakes and small treed plains and snow-marbled mountains, then into the Yukon where we stopped in Whitehorse and got a semi-town camp at a place that offered showers for three dollars in a long trailer of showers. Man, that was a fantastic shower. Then through the lower Yukon, stopping in Destruction Bay where we bought over-priced cans of tuna and mayo and some vegetable matter and went down to the lake which was an eerie translucent blue with chunks of glacial ice in it and we made huge sloppy disgusting sandwiches which we ate along the lakeshore (man, we ate terribly cheap cheap food on that trip). Then to the Alaska boarder where we were stopped and sniffed and investigated for marijuana possession (Matt--but he'd smoked it all and there were only seeds and residue and they let us go) and then camping along a nameless (to us) river outside of Tok, and the drive into Anchorage where we stayed at a fee-less campground near Eagle River. In Anchorage where we met Wayne Rockne a long-ago co-worker friend of Matt's father and he served huge martinis and his wife laughed at our Iowa City--abandoned--cat's name that was Alfredo Garcia. In Anchorage where we gadded about town, looking for work in the daytime (with no address--just a P.O. Box we'd procured) and the drive down to Seward looking for fisherman work, then the jobs for Matt and I (not Brock) at a Shakey's Pizza Parlor on Minnesota Boulevard in the city of Anchorage--(oh, the Monkey Bar, the Alaska Bush Company--a strip joint--and the dead end bars of 2nd Avenue where an ex-con asked me to call his wife who had kicked him out and she would not take him back and then he asked me to take a walk with him and I knew--just knew--he wanted to rob me and said no, and where a Eskimo/Native asked me to tell him a story and I was so bad at it that he dismissed me, the drunk)--but through it all something never sat right with me. And so, after a day/night of working the Shakey's Pizza place, sleeping for weeks in a tent among rainy weather, me missing my serious girlfriend Cin (who was now in Chicago) and Matt missing his girl, Holly, and Brock unemployed (but Brock did not want to go; he chided us and was willing to stick it out) and lowering reserves of small dominations of money (despite one parental infusion via Western Union), Matt and I called it quits and said we would go home.
And after a trip up to Fairbanks and some more camping, we did just that. 
We headed home.
But what had been wrong?
And it was the journal. It was high expectations. It was thinking that this trip--to Alaska--would be the penultimate trip of my lifetime. I had already force-fed myself the directions and outcome for the journey. And, when it did not fit my preconceived notions as it transpired, I was in a land of disappointment. 
It was not a huge disappointment, but a slow-burn nagging one. I think it led heavily in my decision to forego the whole summer in Alaska--as we had planned--and made me give up. Return to the known world of Des Moines and a job and closeness to Cin in Chicago. As for Matt, I can only suppose that he was tired of living in a tent, saw the personal embarrassment of wearing a Shakey's Pizza uniform to work, missed his woman, that he, too, wanted to return to Iowa.
And, so, we left.
Brock was over-ruled.
We drove the long distance back, camping, sight-seeing, to Seattle where we dropped off Brock, then Matt and I headed to Iowa. (I still recall clearly when we entered the Canadian Boarder from the U.S. at Beaver Creek port-of-entry: the boarder guard looked briefly at our IDs, smiled, and then waved us right through; so unlike the inquisition we had experienced when entering the U.S before.)
Our respective homes, all of us. (Well, Matt went to Iowa City to live, not Sioux City.)
(Brock had just graduated from Iowa. I went back for my final semester and graduated in December. Matt never did graduate.)
Yet, when I think about it, even these many years later, it was a strangely big achievement.
I mean, how many people dream of it, how many plan it or consider it: a drive to Alaska with work, a summer spent in the Last Frontier?
And, despite internal misgivings, the truncated experience, we did it. We went.
Brock, Matt and I in 1983.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Small Memory in Idaho #3

This was from when I was a kid and we--as a family--camped out along the Snake River. I don't recall exactly where it was, but I remember the river because I liked snakes a lot when I was a boy. We camped a lot of places out west when we lived in Vancouver--we were a family of seven, which was expensive, so Father had bought a big Coleman tent and Coleman sleeping bags (actually, the first trip we took only blankets and everyone froze at night, hence the purchase of sleeping bags) and eventually a Coleman camp stove, lantern, even a gas space heater and that was our vacation package: tents and bags and a full tank of gas in our deep green Ford Falcon station wagon and western highways and western campgrounds. (Coleman with their forest green and deep red hunting colors, the patterns of pines and pheasants, are still iconic to me.) So, along the Snake River we were. Camp was set. Off we kids went to explore. We met up with some other boy--about my age, I think--and struck up one of those quick, kid-only kinds of friendships. So, he hung with us as we scoured the rocks of the river beneath the dryish mountains and the pine forest.
I remember that that boy and I were goofing around along the banks of the Snake, doing kid things, when all of a sudden we heard this hissing behind us. We ignored it, but the hissing came louder, more insistent. We turned around but all that was there was a clump of tall grasses, maybe a juniper, some rocks. But there was no mistake to us: the hissing was a snake (it was the Snake River, after all). Probably a rattler . . . Well, we took off yelling. Scared. And then out from the grass jumps Oldest Brother. Laughing. He was the rattlesnake. And he was always pulling such stunts--nothing big or especially mean, but pranks pulled often enough to trouble some of us in the family more than others.
But one more thing from that camp, that trip: along the Snake River I caught a blue crayfish. Now, I loved animals, creatures and such. I had those guide books and children's books about animals from different areas of the country, areas of the world, and I'd study them like a little PhD scientist when I was a boy. Over and over and over. And I liked crayfish and I'd seen photos of blue crayfish and knew it was rare to see one and here I was, along the Snake in Idaho, and saw one among the rocks we were overturning and I reached into the cold shallow waters and pulled it up.
I don't remember if I let it go. I don't remember if I killed it.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Civil War: Jonesborough 1968

I was kind of a roughneck little kid. I liked to fight and get dirty and eat and explore and pick up disgusting creatures and bring them home. But I was also shy, sensitive, lived life in my own mind. When we moved to Tennessee when I was ten or so, we first moved to this strange little town--Jonesborough--where we rented a house with an acre or so of woods behind us. We kids also entered the Jonesborough school system.
Now, we were no sophisticates, but coming from the new, progressive, west coast world of Washington to a deeply southern small town world of northeast Tennessee in the late 60's was quite the culture shock. People were nice, but they talked very funny (the word "tar" could be interpreted as tar or tired or tire or tower to our ears), there were expressions and attitudes we had never encountered before and we were obviously "outsiders" from the get-go. The school was in the town (we lived along a highway/road on the outskirts of town) and it was a big, hulking, dilapidated three or four story wooden school house that included about all the grades. The teachers didn't seem to be all that smart. I don't mean to denigrate the South, but Jonesborough--at that time--lived up to most of the stereotypes you can think of. it was so out of whack to our sensibilities and we must have been like foreigners from some strange planet to them. But, being a resilient semi-sensitive-tough guy, I went about making friends. It took a while, but getting through recess helped.
Because at recess, I had to fight.
I had no real interest or deep connection to the North and South, but my little peers sure did. When they found out I was from out west, that I'd been born in South Dakota, well, that was Yankee enough for them. So recess was spent playing Civil War.
"You're from the north, so you're the Yankees. We're from the south, so we're the Rebs," they said. And they were about, oh, I don't know, maybe a dozen.
So, I fought my way through these kids. Now, this wasn't like punching, kicking, stick-throwing fighting. It was more wrestling and such, though I did see a bit of choking, the kind with thumbs stuck into the soft part of your throat. Fortunately, I was bigger than most kids my age--tall, agile, quick, strong--so I held my own. And luckily, these kids had their own scores to settle amongst themselves, so they fought each other even though they were Rebels. But as days and weeks went on, I made friends through this cultural/historical rough-housing exchange and eventually the sides of Yankee and Reb, North and South, pretty much evened out. And later--even though it was never quite healed (like the Civil War even today)--the whole issue was kind of dropped and we all just played and fought because that's what we did.
There was no real supervision on the playground and the land was hilly and had trees and little hollows and gullies covered by vines and branches where we did the most dangerous damage to each other, scuffling about in the scattered leaves and weeds and thistles and honeysuckle vines and all that surreal red clay dirt. Even inside, on cold or rainy days, when we played in the cavernous-broken-down gym, the same antics were played out with no teacher ever saying much about it. There was only one kid I was afraid of. I don't recall his name, but when I conjure up the image of a bully, it's his face I see. He was a sociopath even at that age and all kids avoided him. I was tough with about everyone--sometimes purely in a facade sort of way--but him I never messed with. I recall, in the gym, there was a leather basketball which had its skin torn in one place so that it was like a strap or a handle. And this kid would always get that ball and grab it by that strap and wind up and just slam it into the other kids. I mean, he'd wing it with such force it could knock you down, it would leave big welts on your skin. That was his entertainment.
But I only went to school there in Jonesborough for a half year or more. We moved to Johnson City, where we bought a house outside of town. So, I left behind that bully and all those strange kids. I went to a county school--Cherokee County School--for 5th and 6th Grade. And at Cherokee there was a new class of country kids and bullies and Civil War games. But, I had been through the fire and so I adapted quicker and--with these kids--they seemed a little more welcoming than the other group. For 7th grade I went to a junior high in Johnson City--East High, I think--and made new friends and played football. But by November of 1970, we moved away to Iowa.
We were all glad to go. To get back to a place where things seemed normal to us. (Though father liked Tennessee very much, I believe, and probably wanted to stay.) But, when I think back, Tennessee taught me a lot and I had more fun than probably in Washington or Iowa as a kid.
And I got to fight in the Civil War, almost 100 years late.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Falling Through The Ice: Johnson City 1969

When we moved to east Tennessee, we first lived in the little town of Jonesborough. A year after that we moved to the little city of Johnson City--except we didn't really move into the city, but rather had a place just outside of it along Antioch Road. We lived in a housing development on a semi-steep hill. The houses were newish and behind us was a farmer's field with the obligatory rough-gray-wooden-falling-down tobacco-drying shed. Our street ran downhill to the main road--which was Antioch Road, more like a rural highway, really--and then on the other side of that main road were woods and fields and blank housing lots (and a few new houses) and a creek. THE Creek, as it became known.
The Creek wound its way down out of cow pastures and barbed fences and stony landscapes to flatten and widen and pass beneath a little bridge--the street that was our street on the other side of Antioch--and where we played all year round when we had the time. It would take a lot of words to sum up The Creek and what we--my brothers and sister, neighborhood kids and myself--did there. But I'm just thinking of one small episode one winter.
Winters in northeast Tennessee were not long, were not brutal, though to us--after having lived west of the Cascades in Washington state (I hate having to say "state")--it seemed like a long cold passage of time. I mean, it would snow and the creek would freeze over. And so, this one winter there had been a big snow and I went to The Creek alone to play.
I loved being out there alone as much as I did with the others. I had an elaborate Saturday Morning cartoon show that I ran in my head like a movie (the show--which had my name prominently in its title--had both live action sketches and then a series of different cartoons, usually action cartoons or super hero cartoons, one of which was Element Man) and so I was out there going through an episode of Element Man. And in this episode, Element Man had transformed himself into ice--because the water was frozen over. And so, out I went on The Creek, playing out the cartoon plot and fantasy and at one point I jumped up and came back down and I crashed through the ice. Yes, in reality, I crashed through The Creek's thin ice.
My immediate reaction was to panic. How many movies or shows or comics had I seen where kids crash through the ice and are in peril of dying? Many. Many. And so here I was, ripped out of the cartoon fantasy of my mind into a literally cold reality of smashing into winter's water. I was very scared and prepared myself for a life and death struggle. That is, until I realized I was standing. That The Creek--just like in the summer--was only maybe two feet deep and its treacherous swirling icy waters only reached up to my knees. And all I did was step up and back onto the ice--maybe I even broke more--and walked to the snowy bank and walked home with wet shoes and pant legs.
Oh well.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Time Travel Tree: Vancouver 1963-1968

Trees were an important part of our childhood world in Vancouver, Washington in the 1960's. Yes, there was the big maple in our backyard, which held the treehouse that was our fort, but mainly it was a new neighborhood with only a scattering of adult trees. Maybe that's why we revered them so. There was a small grove of trees across the street, next to a family's house. That family had two older boys (and one my age) who were kind of rough. I fought them a few times. But under those trees, the middle boy pretended to eat a caterpillar, trying to gross-out we younger ones. This was one of those big, huge, spiny green caterpillars that they have in the Northwest, thick and sluggish with small bristling hairs. And as he held it on a stick over his mouth under the trees--in the shade of those trees--his older brother elbowed him, making the fat disgusting green caterpillar drop into his mouth, as he was pretending to do. That was funny. Not nice, but funny. He spit it out quick as anyone would who had a fat caterpillar drop into their mouths.
And thinking of caterpillars: About a block and a half away, on a stretch of empty lots, there was a weeping willow tree, or, the Caterpillar Tree. This was a tree surrounded by fields and then the main road (where the school was) on its back-facing side. And when we discovered this willow, of course we had to climb it. We--and I mean my three brothers and sister and the multitude of neighborhood kids--were all over that tree. Up in its dangly branches and feathery leaves we played tag and laughed and argued and discussed what kids discuss. (We had a really big weeping willow in Sioux Falls, in the Hilltop neighborhood, and when Father trimmed its branches we kids would make big nests from the weeping tendrils--but that's a different memory.) And then, one day, in the branches were these great nests of caterpillars. Maybe they're called bag worms. But they were caterpillars, medium-sized, orange and black and semi-fuzzy. And they lived in these thick webbing nests up in the tree. I mean, tons of them. And so--being kids--we had no revulsion of them and we climbed up there and reached into the webbing and took out great heaping gobs of these creatures. I don't even remember what we did with them--maybe put them in jars--but we took great delight in scooping these wriggly things up. And then, over time, they went away. Moths, I guess. And then, later in the year, they came back. While I lived there, those properties were never developed and that tree provided a lot of seasonal caterpillar harvesting . . . I do recall one day, some man walked up to us kids as we were jamboreeing in the tree and he was upset. he was angry. he told us to get out of that tree. That we were wrecking it. But, to our betterment, we argued back with him. We were just kids, I was not even ten yet, but we talked back and stood our ground. We didn't get out of that tree.
Then there was the Penis Tree. It was a block further up and a block further in than the Caterpillar Tree, again surrounded by empty lots. It was a pine tree--or maybe a fir--thick with green branches. However, at the bottom rung of branches, there was one branch that extended out further than the others. Thus, that was the tree's penis. It was Oldest Brother who came up with that one. And it was a source of great amusement among us. But it was also the tree we went to when we ran away from home. Yes, we did the classic run away thing as kids: Some parental/offspring argument caused us to secede from the family and we packed blankets and pillows and snacks and toys, putting most of them in the proverbial red wagon, and headed out. And we decided to camp at the Penis Tree. We set up camp pretty good. Father had said to us, as our revolt enfolded, "Okay. Good luck. I'll miss you." I don't recall what Mother said, but she did not stop us. And so, camp was set. We talked, enjoyed ourselves. Laughed once again--out of a multitude of laughs--at the tree's penis. And then night fell. And we marched back home. Nothing was said, but we didn't run away again.
But the most important tree--other than the Fort Maple Tree In Our Backyard--was the Time Travel Tree. It, too, was a pine (or fir). It was across the street in a lot behind the three boys' house. It was big, fuzzy, with strong branches that led down to the ground. I think Oldest Brother had been reading A Wrinkle In Time, or some such book, and that's how he decided that the tree could travel through time. Or, maybe he'd been reading H.G. Wells. Irrelevant. We were kids. Imagination was a powerful thing. And when we all clambered up into that pine/fir, rummaging our thin bodies into the center of the thick-needled tree, and when we began shaking it and screaming and making strange UFO noises, then we traveled back in time. We traveled to dinosaur times, years of Knights and Ladies, Kings and Castles, times of war, to Ancient Greece and Egypt, to last week--for all I remember. We would come down from the tree and be in this new/old world and then invent our own psychodrama to pretend our way through that pretend world, usually ending with a life-and-death chase back to the tree where we again shook and screamed and escaped oblivion by the skin of our baby teeth. But the tree was also just the main tree to hang out in--other than the Fort in the maple--where we discussed things and events, everything from God and the stars to school and the new Monkees episode on TV.
Ah, hell. It was childhood. Young childhood. Everyone had one. Just make an effort and remember. Remember long enough and, for one lightning bolt fleeting second, maybe you can feel it in your limbs and brain and heart, that wonderful soaring discombobulated blood-coursing lightness that was you as a child.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Enid Avenue: Vancouver 1963

When we moved to Washington--to Vancouver along the Columbia River--my father bought a brand new house on Enid Avenue. It was a new subdivision with some established homes and some empty lots and some homes under construction. These were the typical 1950s ranch-like tract style homes: one story, three bedrooms, one and a half baths, a spacious yard. It was located a few blocks from a grade school and George C. Marshall High (or maybe my school was called george C. Marshall and maybe the high school was a junior--or middle--high school). So, we walked to school when the time came.
But when we first moved in, we had no furniture. The government paid for the move, via Mayflower Van Lines, and our stuff was like a week or so behind us. I think it was in storage back in South Dakota, until my father found and bought a house. So, my parents went out and bought a rug. Yes, a big round living room rug. One of those, what I think are called, braided rugs. It was oval shaped and almost multi-colored and it went down in the living room, on the hardwood flooring. And then we got blankets and pillows or maybe we'd brought those with us. And that first week or so, we all slept on the new rug in the living room with blankets.
I think there was a fireplace.
The yard held no grass, only weeds, though there was one big adult maple tree in the back. Which quickly became home to a tree house--or the fort--with cut two-by-four ladder steps and an open platform where the branches forked. I recall we helped Father with the yard. It was full of tall weeds and grasses--wildflowers--our lot and the unsold one on our right (or left, depending on where you were standing). So, we picked weeds. For a long time, we cleared the yards. When it was bare, Father found that it was very rocky--as most western soils are. So, he'd spend weekends digging up the ground and would pay us--I don't remember how much, not much--to pick out the big rocks and pile them in the back yard (where, eventually, he made a terraced flower garden, that held maybe some veggies too) and he then seeded the yard and grew his grass. He loved grass. He loved trees and flowering plants, too. So, over time, we had a very full yard of trees and plants with swaths of tended grass. And in Washington--unlike South Dakota--things pretty much stayed green year round. Washington was like Hawaii compared to South Dakota. (I remember we had a snow day once or twice--school cancelled--but it was only a dusting of snow and we were all incredulous that they would cancel because of it, I mean, it wasn't even sticking to the pavement! In Sioux Falls I can recall walking to Kindergarten along towering drifts of piled snow along the sidewalks--yes, I was a little kid, but there was still tons of snow everywhere.)
So, on Enid Avenue in Vancouver, Washington in the early 60s, we started anew in a house pretty much from scratch. There were some other kids and more moved in and soon we had a true neighborhood with all the magic and drama and roustabouting that a good childhood entails. We all liked it. We'd lay in the grass my father had planted and watch clouds, watch the acrobatic seagulls wheel in the sky. We had the tree fort and a huge sand box (the sand came from the banks of the Columbia, where Father would take us to fill the sacks) (the sandbox was a central gathering point for all our childhood endeavors) and the famous swing set. The swing set had no swings. Oh, it'd had swings at one time, but we'd broken most of them and, anyway, we'd come to prefer it without them because then it was just one long, high metal pole and the smaller side-brace poles and we'd climb them like monkey bars and do all sorts of things on the set that we wouldn't/couldn't do if it had had swings.
And when I think of childhood--true childhood full of fun and semi-innocence and long days and longer summers--it's my life in Vancouver that comes to mind.
We had a happy family, I believe. And we all liked the northwest--the climate and weather, the mountains (on clear days we'd count them, name them, those big volcanic cylinders with snowy tops: Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainier, Mt. Baker, the Three Sisters and more) we loved the river and Portland and the big Pacific beaches and the ocean--and, years later, it was quite the shock when we moved to Tennessee. But, that's a different memory.
Enid Avenue in Vancouver? Those were good childhood times.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A Related Memory #2: Cabin Life

When Fru and I lived in the cabin in the Bitterroots, I forgot to mention the flies. And the bees. And the leaf bugs--or maybe they were stink bugs. The thing was, it was a new cabin with new logs and big windows and flies--especially flies--would gather in the sunlight in the big paned windows and they'd buzz and buzz and there'd also be bees and there'd be the leaf/stink bugs flying around. I mean, it was like an infestation, one controlled to mainly the windows. A few other people had had this problem, but most cabin dwellers seemed not to. They didn't know what I was talking about.But it was almost all regulated to the upstairs and their windows.
Our landlord--Phil, who had one arm and had lived in the Sandwich Islands and who had built the cabin--said it was natural and that the only thing made to get rid of them was a "spray" made from chrysanthemum leaves. It was a Japanese thing.
So, Fru and I made do with swatters and dealing with the bugs landing on us in bed and such. Then, we graduated to vacuuming the flies and bees and bugs out of the window about every other day, got to where we accepted the stink/leaf bugs flying into us at times. It was great fun. I even wrote a poem about it, about how the bugs and flies were condemned to the hell of the vacuum bag: Vacuuming Flies From My Cabin Window.
I think that's what it was titled.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Go West, Young Boy: Vancouver 1963

I was a young boy when we moved from Sioux Falls, South Dakota out to Vancouver, Washington. By we I mean my parents--Father and Mother--and my Oldest Brother, my Second-Oldest Brother, my Sister and Youngest Brother. Seven of us, that made it, and our cocker spaniel, Blackie. I was all of five years old.
I think we drove out in my Dad's Nash Rambler. I remember it as being two-toned (red and white) big, hulking, full of steel.  It was a car with those fins and bulbous headlights. I could, of course, be wrong that it was this car--my dad had one, but I'm not sure the Nash Rambler was the car we drove out in. My father worked for the Veterans Administration (V.A.) as a psychologist and he was being promoted/transfered from Sioux Falls. (My father was from Red Oak, Iowa (actually, he'd been born in eastern Nebraska, some little town along the Blue River, but Red Oak was his town) and my mother was from the small town of Arlington, South Dakota. (All of us kids had been born in Sioux Falls.) So, our belongings were being transported by Mayflower moving trucks (paid for by the Fed) and we headed out as one of those typical 1950's families--Mom and Dad and one kid up front, four kids squished in the backseat with pillows and toys and snacks and the family dog, all of us riding seatbeltless and whiney and also on a great sense of adventure. I recall I had some plastic dinosaurs that I played with the whole trip long, while my father drove us through South Dakota--through the Black Hills where we had vacationed a number of times--and through Wyoming and into Montana, Idaho, into Washington and down into Oregon and then crossing the Columbia River in Portland to get to Vancouver, Washington: our new home town.
It was summer and it was hot, all the windows down with the hot air rushing inside at us as my father sped down the roads--some Interstate, I'd guess, but am not sure. I think there was plenty of two-lane, too. (Not all of the Interstate had been built at that time.) We all did our usual antics as a family of five small kids heading out west--fought and cried and laughed at each other, made our parents angry, yelled when the dog pissed in the car, stopped at rest stops too often, ate too much junk, were fascinated with the roadside motels because we never ever stayed at motels much before. I do recall that I was sitting up front (we often fought over who got to sit up front and then who got to sit by the windows in back) and we must have been in Wyoming--seeing those long arid plains for the first time, that endless nothing nothing that makes up such a chunk of the West--and I was the first one to spot the mountains. This was a big deal. In my mind, this happened in Montana, but it must have been Wyoming, no? Sure, we'd seen hills and small mountains, but these were the big craggy snowcapped beasts. It had been a challenge--a game my parents used to keep us occupied--to see who would be the first to spot the mountains. And I, being up front, being a viewer of landscapes and a burgeoning highway nomad without knowing it even at that age, saw up ahead, in front of us along the long stretch of empty road the rise of something strange, some gray matter way away with what became a blinding white hairline. The Rockies with snow.
Maybe it was the Tetons, maybe it was indeed the early mountains of Montana. But I was the one to see them and this went down in family lore.
And what it meant--those first mountains--was we were out West. And when we went over those mountains, we had left our old lives behind, ever so further as we made our way past more mountains and forests and rivers and to--essentially--the Pacific. Wet, green, volcanic big snowy mountain studded, mild-weathered, Cascade Ranged, Pacific Northwest, Washington/Oregon west. That was where we lived.
I sometimes get that trip mixed up with others. Because in the five to six years we lived in Vancouver, every summer we'd take week to two or three week long car and camping trips all over the West--we even drove back to South Dakota at least once--(and when we eventually moved to Tennessee, that was another long car trip, down through California and across AZ, NM, TX and then gone from the West), I'm mainly talking Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and of course Washington and I get those vacations, those other long long car trips, strewn in with the two big moving ones. But, not the first sighting of the mountains.
That I remember.