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Home-bound 1.4-BroadShoulders

Topping Touchet Hill, I felt my shoulders spreading out, stretching from horizon to horizon across this wide frozen valley. The Blues an icy mirage hovering along the Eastern extent, the Columbia Gorge slipping behind. Our passage had been surprisingly effortless; haunted by grave predictions, but that freezing rain front dissipated over the Coast Range and never touched the Gorge. Multnomah Falls fell through an ice chute into a snow-frosted canopy. We fell just as effortlessly through the long, familiar rimrock and cottonwood, road screaming beneath us.

Distressed to discover that the Pheasant Grill was closed, for sale sign replacing the predictably welcoming entrance. No Honker Burger this trip. On to the aptly-named Boardman for a Bozo Burger instead.

This part of the country, the ass end of The Oregon Trail, looks deceptively barren in the December light. My forebears found their Eden here, thriving and multiplying over a three thousand foot thick basalt cap blocking access to ground water. They did a bit better than eke out an existence here, judging by the number of their progeny. I am only one of those, still wandering around this country with a faint hint of their Missouri accent, carrying their restlessness forward.

I am proud of my heritage here, secretly sorry for those who hail from city or more hospitable territory. The early pioneers emerged from the Blue Mountains to find a solid hundred and fifty miles of apparent desert between them and an even more daunting Cascade Mountain crossing, and they wept in despair. Few of the earliest settled here, struggling on and up and over into the Willamette Valley, an Eden of the more anticipated kind; and my ancestors were among them. My most direct forbears, though, came later, via train to Salt Lake, then stage coach into Walla Walla, the center of the local universe then. They chased free land into north central Oregon and taught the kids how to kill rattlers and herd sheep, and my grandfather came along a generation later, then my mom, then me.

My shoulders broaden to wear my family’s history here. Now, the Valley enjoys the new-found reputation as a destination, attracting weekend wine drinkers. Main Street, filled with cute crap shops and tasting rooms, almost qualifies as a Disney reproduction of a small city. It stands on the shoulders of the genuine article, the mercantile center of Washington Territory, odd remnants poking through the refurbished brick store fronts.

My mom seems as bent and stiff as an ancient cottonwood. She’s roughly the shape of a partially reclined La-Z-Boy recliner, Parkinson’s vibrating through tightly-stretched sinew. Brain as sharp as ever, words whispered, meanings unclear. I am her dutiful son, leaning closer to hear.

I am not afraid here. I seem able to anticipate where the next intrusion’s coming from. In exile, I’m as helpless as a weekend wine sniffer trying to weave his way back to that unfamiliar hotel. I know well what used to be here, what’s buried beneath the fresh pavement and hospitality rooms. I can see clear to the shoulder-broadening horizon where a bright, cold sunrise searches me out, and will most certainly find me.

©2013 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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