Grateful Blog Day 105: (this was Saturday’s Grateful Blog…I’m behind…). I saw Hayes Carll in concert on Saturday night. The best part of the show was seeing so many friends there. Four years ago I didn’t know a single one of those folks so that never would have happened back then. But when I got there (late as usual) I first ran into a friend who works at the venue. Hugs, catching up, laughs. I miss seeing her. Then I headed in the theater and found my group of friends. More hugs, catching up, laughs. They had a spare seat and I settled in for a really good show. I sat next to Bonnie who has the world’s best taste I music, Rich passed a flask of ‘Old Weller’ on the sly and dear Cheryl threw crumpled dollar bills at my head during show. You know you’re loved when that happens. So I’m Grateful for that as well as the hugs, the catching up, the laughs, and a seat saved amongst friends. It was a really good show…
Grateful Blog Day 104: I woke up in Pendleton, Oregon the other morning, the town made famous by its annual rodeo and the woolen mills by the same name. It was a little disorienting since I’d been camping in the desert for several days and had seen or spoken with virtually no one. And suddenly there I was, waking up in a motel with the train roaring by and a complimentary breakfast. I skipped it. I drove around downtown 5 or 6 times. It doesn’t take long and after a few trips around the downtown blocks you’ve seen it all—5 or 6 times. I grabbed coffee and headed back to the motel to pack when I noticed the Pendleton Woolen Mills store. I was wearing my favorite Pendleton wool/down vest. It’s probably the most comfortable and most versatile piece of clothing I own. Its part vest, part coat, part pillow and part seat cushion. Half the time I come in the house and keep it on for another hour; it’s THAT comfortable and frankly, why be cold while the house is still heating up?
So I wandered in and the store was dead at that hour; just me and the sales clerk. She noticed my vest and we talked a minute or 2. Mostly I told her how much I loved it but it was in pretty sorry shape due to a torn pocket and exactly five different tears—the last 2 coming courtesy of some barbed wire I got tangled with a few hundred miles ago a few days earlier. She said ‘Take off the vest, let me see’. I didn’t really think about it, I just did. She saw the damage, said ‘a whip-stitch wouldn’t be pretty but it’d do the trick’ and I nodded ‘uh huh’ as if I had a clue what a ‘whip-stitch’ was. Then she said ‘do you have 15 minutes?’ Yeah sure. ‘Great!’ It what seemed like 5 seconds, she had a drawer open and a handful of spools of thread and various needles on the table and began sewing. We talked a little bit longer but I could see it’d be easier if I just left her alone so I did.
It’s weird, the whole time I had that feeling you get when someone chooses to take over and you let them—like getting a massage. At first there’s an unfamiliarity to negotiate, then some odd warm and prickly feeling in the back of your neck and then the general feeling of well-being when someone unselfishly gives of themselves. I’m pretty sure it’s not in the employee handbook for sales clerks to offer to sew customer’s Pendleton garments right there and then—I’m pretty sure they’re not supposed to fix them at all. And I’m quite certain there job is to sell you anther one. Believe me, I looked. No luck.
So 15 minutes later she was done. Her sewing was efficient (mind you I’m no expert) and she said it was far from perfect but I begged to differ. I walked into the store with my favorite torn vest on, smelling of campfire smoke, and she literally just took it upon herself to fix it. I didn’t catch her name but I want to write the company a letter to tell them how Grateful I was she was working that morning, and how Grateful they should be to have her be the face of their company when she’s behind the counter. Like I said, I’m a big fan of the vest, but now I’m a bigger fan of the company and the fine ladies (and men) who work there. When summer hits before long it’ll get put in the back of the closet but when I pull it out next fall, it’ll be good as new…
Grateful Blog Day 103: Yesterday I stopped off at a rest area to stretch my legs and write this blog. I had it all written—a picture, the works. But a storm kicked up and somewhere in the wind of the Columbia River gorge it disappeared into cyberspace and just as likely into thin air. I can’t recreate it so there’s no point in trying. The thing is when I realized it happened I was already back in the car, driving again, and just a few hours from home. I’d been out for several days and I was Grateful to be so close to home. There are many days that I feel that the ‘Grateful Blog’ is really special—and I so value that folk’s take time out of their busy days to read it. And some days I feel like I’m just another guy trying to shout above the interstate traffic into the spring Columbia River wind and who really just wants to drive that last 200 miles to get back home to his wife. It was a long and sometime’s crazy trip, and I’m Grateful to make it home again, safe and sound.
Grateful Blog Day 102: Woke up this morning to this scene in Mountain Time but still deep in the canyons of SE Oregon at Succor Creek.
Yesterday I wandered the canyons of Leslie Gulch, my new favorite place. The guide book said to take the right fork but the left fork looked steep–and more interesting. So I climbed over several plunge pools and rock faces and was treated to a solitary and beautiful side canyon few might ever venture to see. I lingered awhile, wary of my water supply and knowing I’d need to find another way back down. I was Grateful that my old desert Canyonlands Park Ranger instincts kicked in for I traversed a saddle or 2, dropped into a different side canyon and followed the wash safely back to the truck.
Its been an amazing trip…the weather’s cooperated, the scenery is incommparable…but mostly I’m Grateful to spend some time alone and let the land–the mountains, canyons, rivers and hot springs, work their magic on me.
And I’m Grateful finally for a bit of patience…its often hard to come by but out here on the dirt roads in the remote backcountry, patience isn’t just a virtue, its a survival skill,knowing that you’ve got to slow down on some pretty crazy and narrow roads…and stopping to remember where you’ve been and where you’re going…
Grateful Blog Day 101: I drove 11 hours to get here. Took the long way by far. Lakeview. Plush. Adel. Denio. Fields. Andrews. Last night around midnight while soaking in the spring, the moon rose orange and slow, shimmering over the Alvord desert playa…it was the most magnificent and indescribable thing. This morning in the sagebrush I just sat and listened while the birds sang to me. The whole desert sings. There are no tricks…you just to keep coming and wait and wait and wait…somewhere like last night and this morning I’m reminded again why I keep coming back, because in all that waiting I always find that my spirit was alive and well all along…you just have to wait. And listen. And sure enough the birds will sing, the moon will rise and your spirit will come alive. After all, there’s so much to be Gateful for…
Grateful Blog Day 100: I waited 3 times on the highway today…once for a herd of deer another a herd of Bighorn sheep and then for a real live cattle drive…I was Grateful to be driving slow and sightseeing and to have met up with them during the day and not at night…stopped in at the famous Adel store (under new ownership) for gas and an ice cold coke…I’m Grateful for both since the next town is 90 miles away…Happy Trails!
Grateful Blog: Day 99: 99 Days of the Grateful Blog…wow…I’m STILL Amazed at this point that I’ve made it this far and that I’m still at it. But the thing is I’m leaving. Not forever, but for a while. It’s true I COULD use a break but I’ve been so touched and amazed by the daily responses I get that I come back each and every day and find inspiration in the act of being Grateful. It’s made me more aware of ALL the blessings in my life and that WAS the point. To celebrate all the things and people that we’re Grateful for.
But my life is busy and complicated. I regularly work 50-60 hour weeks. It’s hard to squeeze in sometimes when you’re just getting home from work at 9pm and then reach into your life or your day and find that inspiration. One of my great inspirations, from 30 years ago now, is the American intermountain West. That great expanse west of the Rockies and east of the wet coastal mountain ranges. What they call ‘Basin and Range’ country of the Great Basin. Out there in the sagebrush sea: Wild horses, antelope, coyotes, tumbleweeds, small towns, cowboys and big, open blue skies with the horizon as far as the eye can see. That’s the country that inspires me the most. I can’t explain and I won’t attempt to try.
The truck is packed, a sleeping bag, some wood, water, extra gas and spare shovel. Like I said, it’s big country and it’s remote as hell. Look on a map of Oregonwhere it meets Nevada and Idaho. See that blank spot on the map? Down near Steens Mountain and the Alvord desert? Yeah, that’s the place. Then on through the Owyhee Country and up through Pendleton (time to finally make good on a new custom made cowboy hat). That’s as much of a ‘plan’ as I need to know. There’s also a few old favoritehot springsI need to visit and soak for a few days. You know, warm up from a long winter and loosen the bones up from sleeping on the ground with no tent, just me and the stars and the coyotes. My old truck knows the dirt roads at least as good as I do and frankly, half the joy is not knowing what comes next, but it’s good a spare 5 gallons of extra gas just the same.
So if I can somehow figure out how to do ‘The Grateful Blog’ from my phone and I actually get some service, which is next to nothing out there, I’ll take a stab at it. If not, well I’ll be back, scruffy, wide-eyed, and smelling of sagebrush fires, cigars and whiskey. I’ve got my Martin guitar, a few old favorite books I’ve been meaning to re-read (there ain’t no stinkin’ ‘E-Books’ in the desert man!) and a 12 gauge shotgun just to keep the rattlesnakes honest. It’s THAT sort of country after-all. And it’s my favorite kind of country. Time to get back there and make sure thehot springsand I survived another long winter. Somewhere about 450 miles and 9 hours from here tonight, I’ll be Grateful to know that in both cases it’s true. See you down the trail!
Grateful Blog: Day 98: Last night was Passover. I celebrate it every year but not because I’m Jewish but because my dear friends are and I’ve been honored to have been invited to celebrate that Holy night with them for 15 years or more, as long as I can remember. It’s a special night, as much for the ceremony as for the company of friends. Our host calls it the ‘Jewish Thanksgiving’. Others call it the Last Supper. I’m just Grateful to be part of it.
The thing is, we read the story of the Exodus, in which the ancient Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt. In some ways the story is specific and in some ways universal. There was a passage in the book that we read from, the Haggadah, where it says something to the effect of ‘standing up against injustice and celebrating freedom’ and it was beautiful and I wish I could remember it because it a manifesto of sorts not only for the Israelite slaves in Egypt but for people everywhere. When you celebrate a tradition that is thousands of years old and realize that their hopes and dreams were no different than ours, one begins to have a greater appreciation of why we struggle with the difficult questions of modern day life, and how the against the backdrop of history our answers must be informed.
Then of course there are the rituals: The bitter herds, the unleavened bread or matzah, the lamb and the four cups of wine. I won’t pretend to understand the theology behind the Jewish faith or any faith for that matter, but I do know this, a faith that celebrates by inviting their close friends to partake in their sacred holiday is a blessing, for the food, the company, the atmosphere and the window into the past and the future. It’s simple, ancient, and unpretentious and I’m Grateful to once again have been part of that.
The nicest moment of the whole night was when our host, my friend Dennis, went around the table and spoke from his heart to each and every one of us, to why they were special to him. It was unscripted and there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. There’s that thing, that anticipation when you know your turn is coming and you suddenly begin focusing in a deeper way than you ordinarily would and there’s a palpable feeling that overtakes you. Call it ‘being present’ or just being alive and fully in the moment. Anyways, it was like that. It was inclusive, heartfelt and special beyond the words I could type.
I don’t care what religion or God any my friends believe in. I believe in them and we believe in each other. Passover’s like that for me, an affirmation that we are all one as a people, no race, no creed, no nationalities or boundaries. We’re ALL wandering the desert the desert trying to figure out the meaning of our lives and what happens next. On Passover, surrounded by friends, there’s no need to wonder or worry, the moment and the celebration is enough, and Moses parting of theRed Seais just the icing on the cheesecake.
Grateful Blog: Day 97: I met a dead woman today. Walked in her house and knew she was gone. She wasn’t there but she didn’t have to be. The house was empty but she was there in spirit. The shag carpeting is often what you see first, but usually it’s the smell of mothballs, and dust. There the 1970’s amber glass light fixtures. The condensed ‘Best of’ Reader’s Digest’ multi-volume set right next to the picture book of the Grand Canyon, the Complete Book on Home Remedies and the Living Bible all covered under a thick layer of dust on a walnut bookcase. There is the ironing board at the ready, the cupboard full of bug spray and Ajax cleaner, and the Sears ‘Kenmore’ washer and dryer from the mid-1980’s. There is the cushioned toilet seat, the numerous pictures of Jesus and the lone refrigerator magnet that just says ‘San Antonio’.
There is the old powder blue Samsonite suitcase, the beaded sombrero from a trip to Mexico, the musical LP’s of ‘Oklahoma’ and ‘Fiddler on the Roof’, and the adjustable hospital style bed, with the rails now removed. There is the box of ‘Good Housekeeping Secrets to House Plants’, the wood paneling and the chain/swag lights. And of course there is the diorama woodcarving of the Last Supper and even a corkboard with several articles clipped from ‘Handy Household Hints from Heloise’ declaring ‘How to make your own cleaning products.’ There is the requisite macramé plant holder, the Rubbermaid bins with pens that don’t work from insurance companies, and the bathroom closet with liniments and hydrogen peroxide with nary a cotton ball in sight.
In a bedroom there was a black velvet painting of a Poncho Vila—or at least his likeness, and there was a picture of a young boy and missing smoke detector and heavy, smoky, musty pleated curtains and, two deadbolts, one chain and bars over all the windows. But somehow after 95 years, and likely the last 50 years in this small house with peeling paint, substantial rot and a suspect roof, she managed to escape it all and I’m Grateful for that.
How do I know that? Well, in her bedroom, under the water stain where the plaster had swollen, discolored and cracked, there was a picture of her on her heavy oak dresser, as a young girl, in black and white, with a friend at some lake. You could see it in their eyes, in their friendship and in the way they looked at the camera. No life or body or house could hold all that and I was Grateful she was finally free…