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Driving

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Driving at Night

photo 1While we drive to the ranch I watch out the back window at the sunset, glorious in pinks and golds, setting the wheat fields on fire as we race along the highway. It’s long enough to make my neck hurt after awhile, but I can’t make myself move, can’t force myself to break the spell that’s keeping me here, petting Dexter’s head as he breathes slowly, in his dog way, while my Dad talks about his Dad and all the sadness that’s left there. I think about what that must be like, to not have your Dad like you and I can’t imagine it, which is something I think would make my Dad happy to know. At the very least, he hasn’t made the same mistakes that his Dad has. My siblings and I live in a world where we have a soft place to land, someone to guide us and give us rules, and of course, we’ve always had lots of love. What else do kids need? I wonder, because really I don’t know, and I don’t know if anyone knows for sure—but it seems like my childhood was a pretty good place to start. The problem is, of course, I think while the highway is fading into a thin black ribbon, cascading behind us, rippling through the hillside and out into the sun while we head into the dark, that eventually you stop being a child even though you still have your family. The reason this is a problem is that you have to learn how to be a part of a family when you’re all adults. It changes things, it really does. I wonder, as dusk settles in and deer start dotting every field, at what point you stop needing your parents? Two huge bucks appear, eyeing us while they pose in the lower fields, and Dad tells us they all come down at this time of year to the open fields because their antlers are in velvet and very sensitive, so they avoid the timber, where branches are thick. We pause by the side of the road and then keep driving towards the ranch, hitting Condon before dropping back down into the canyon and wending our way along the river. Never is the answer here, I think. You never stop needing your parents, which is I think, one of the hardest realities of life we all face.

Fossil is the same as it always is, although cooler now that the sun has pretty much gone down and night has started creeping around the edges of the houses and the trees. Highway 19 welcomes us in, the burned tree a talisman and a practical marker for where our gate is. When we pull in, gravel crunching under the wheels of the truck, Rachelle spots a huge herd of elk eating in our lower field. Quick, my Dad says, quick how many were there? We stop, barely breathing, Dexter’s nose pressed against the glass and look for their big bodies shadowed in the grass and trees. One bull is there, although I don’t see him, but Rachelle has sharper eyes than I do and she spots him.  I can barely see in the daytime, so now that it’s almost full dark I’m pretty much useless, although I imagine I can see the curve of the road as it follows the lower field, and I can pick out the outline of the ridge against the sky. Little pricks of light are starting to hover above the horizon, guide lights in the night. It’s almost been a year since I stood on this same porch and looked at the sky, hoping for a sight of my Grandma. I think of my Dad and how he needed his Mom, and still does I think all the time, even though she really only nailed one of the three.

It doesn’t seem like a year ago that I was leaning on the rail, thinking about Brian Doyle and all those stars. It seems like it was both yesterday and a lifetime ago, that it all happened to a different person. Maybe it did. It’s been a big year for growing in this family, of figuring out how we’re going to live and love each other. And I think part of it is because in the last year we’ve seen, I’ve seen, my parents become people. Not just my Mom and Dad, but Claire and Nathan. And it’s horrible, a painful thing sometimes, something you want to rail against. I’m lucky, I think because I’m 23 and just finding this out, although there have always been glimpses of those people—when they’ve been angry at each other, when they’ve dropped a piece of your life puzzle, and when they’re desperately sad. Some people find out too soon, that their parents are just people and not Gods, not the sun and the moon, not the reason for why the world turns. But when you start growing up, the way it should be, you start becoming a person with wants and fears and hopes, dreams and love of your own, and you recognize that your parents and your siblings and everyone around you have their own wants and fears and hopes and dreams. When you start to grow up all the pain and sadness and lost hope begins to reveal itself to you, the injustice in the world, the death in life, it all becomes apparent. Your Dad cries at funerals and your mom tries to put him back together, and they talk about the things they still have left to do before they die too. But will I ever want them to stop being those raw, complex beings and go back to being only my parents, my Mom and Dad? Simple, my soft place to land? Yes, always.

All this that I see. But still, this weekend at the ranch, I don’t believe it, not really. Here we are all together, my life still revolving around this sun and moon I have been so blessed with, my sister and brother anchoring lights in the little constellation we make up. And so I leave the drive behind, smell the juniper in the air, wake up early and we go for a family walk.

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The Year in Review

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The Year in Review

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My first memory, when I think about my year in review, is of a night in early October, when I was driving my car, a 2002 silver Ford hatchback Focus (a beauty) down the freeway, well-past midnight and with the windows rolled down, freezing me up until my very bones felt icy. I had the music turned all the way up, some nameless pop song drowning out any conscious thought that may have occurred to me, and I sat there and drove home. Maybe there's a certain glamour to that--that my initial memory of the past year was one when I was in particular turmoil, enough so that at the time, it felt logical to fly down the freeway in the middle of the night with the windows rolled down, blasting pop music.

Please, for a moment, picture it. I wonder if someone else is sitting down to assess their year in review, and the first thing that popped into their head was the night they, probably for a very rational reason, were driving late and saw a girl speeding stoically down the freeway, windows of her silver bullet rolled down and Top 40 pouring out. Or maybe that memory will fade into the background for that person as I'm hoping it will for me, and reside somewhere dusty, nestled in among all the other mundane things that happen to us for most of the hours of most of the days of most of our years.

It was, sort of, a big year--which is to say, there are things that if I were taking a more consciously reflective route, I would have thought of first, before the night I sped down the freeway with the windows rolled down came back to me. For example, I graduated college. I heard the Dalai Lama speak at my graduation, and then I shook his hand. Forget the certain tinge of glamour my bewildering and somewhat tragic moment of cold on the freeway had, I shook the Dalai Lama's hand! Would it be too much to ask to have let that wash over me first?

Considering this, indignation gives way to bemusement. This is the problem I run into with the New Year, capital N, capital Y. There's so much pressure for highlights, the big things--the Events that make everyone feel like their year was worthwhile. The night itself is a culmination of that feeling of anxiety that somehow I'm not living enough, or doing it right--and I realized, while I was celebrating New Year's Eve by staring down at a mass of humanity and one very large Christmas tree from a rooftop bar that really, if it weren't for fear of somehow disappointing my arbitrary expectations of both the evening and the year, the best way I could think of to start 2014 was well-rested. And well-rested was not what I was achieving as I tossed back bitter champagne and watched other people kiss their significant others. What I was achieving was a headache.

I'm verging on the edge of sounding dour, perhaps even crotchety before my time, so let me say--I regret nothing. I'm glad I went out, albeit somewhat reluctantly, and I'm not so upset that my cold night in the car was my first memory when reflecting on my year.

For all of the insecurity that New Year’s can bring, reflecting on how we spend our time is not a bad thing. Rather, New Year’s is a welcome opportunity for most to evaluate our experiences and growth of the last twelve months. The danger is I think in not acknowledging the balance that experience deserves. That moment in the car, for all intents and purposes, was hardly a blip on the radar of my life, a brief moment of confusion and stress in the long story of existence. It was actually a longer period of time than the moment I shook the Dalai Lama’s hand—which might make one wonder if perhaps that blur of night and headlights should rank higher on the highlight reel of my life than the Dalai. But there’s the futility of that way of thinking, the endless ranking that New Year’s appears to demand.

There was so much beauty in my year that can’t be captured by the two or three things that I might consider big life events. I graduated college, I moved back to Portland, I got a meaningful job, I lost my grandma, I ended a relationship. Those are big things, to be sure. But if you only look at that, you'd see a mostly a narrative of loss and uncertainty. That was a part of the big picture, but for every stressed out moment in the car, there was a morning that the sun came up and bathed even my basement room in buttery light and I didn't have anything to do that day but enjoy it, if I felt like it. I have countless runs, thousands of moments of feeling strong and healthy, days curled in front of fires, mornings that I woke up well-rested, perfect meals that I made myself, wonderful people I got to share them with, many days spent in nature, breathing in wonder, light and air. Those little shards of memory are what really end up defining a year, that fill in the enormous spaces between what we might consider life-changing events. Those impressions, fleeting moments of eternity, are how I know my life is good.

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Rooster

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Rooster

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IMG_4080There are few things that capture the American imagination quite like the open road does, I think. Some of our most iconic books, and some of the best I'v ever read, have been about being on the road, and I'm not just talking Kerouac here. William Least Heat-Moon does the same thing in Blue Highways that Kerouac does, albeit with slightly more forethought and slightly (considerably) less drugs. And fewer thinly-veiled famous people. But both encourage a way of wandering that's unique to our country, as many, many other stories do, and I often find myself experiencing a thrill when getting on the road as a participant of that grand tradition. A few weekends ago I hopped into my old standby, Grocery Getter, and me and the silver bullet bombed over to the ranch to go see my cousin Spencer and go pheasant hunting with my Dad and them. I drove over by myself, which I don't mind at all--frankly, there's no pressure to perform behind the wheel, which is a source of considerable stress for me when there are other people in the car. People are such sticklers for abiding the law these days, I just don't get it. So when it's just me, the road and GG I can sit back, relax and enjoy the ride. The Gorge was looking as imposing as ever, defined by those intimidating vistas and overwhelming in the staidness with which it has weathered both time and humanity. The foliage is starting to change, which I love. Russet color templates really do something for me. I got some good old-fashioned thinking done, which is always a win. There wasn't anything not good, or even slightly less than good, about that trip. I love the windy road through the canyon at the ranch, I like that I know exactly how to get there, and that everything is familiar to me. It used to be that I would see something new every time, and now it's one of those trips and one of those places that I know like the back of my hand. I can close my eyes and be driving down the highway to the ranch. It's a beautiful thing.

When we finally made it to the ranch, after a quick football detour at the Hotel Condon (a fine establishment if there ever was one) and a 20 minute trip from Condon to Fossil with my Dad that felt very reminiscent of the road times we immediately began doing taste test comparisons of whiskey and playing hearts. This should be expected. Later we trucked on over up the old service road past the orchard and started an enormous fire, and the very most primal parts of our minds surfaced so we were mesmerized for hours watching the flames flicker and leap into the air, and it was so hot on my skin I felt sure I was sunburned. Which makes me think now about how powerfully hot the real sun is, to be able to inflict a similar kind of damage from light years away, and if that doesn't put you in a respectful state of mind, I don't know what would. We walked back down the road to the cabin in an eerie blue light from the moon, looking back over our shoulders at a dying fire that still lit up the whole forest, and all saying quiet silent prayers for the warm beds we had waiting for us. But those are the walks I like best I think, when you're happy for where you've been but still excited to be going where you're going, and that's usually how I feel there so that's another good thing.

In the morning, we got up and got ready for THE HUNT, another great American tradition--I went two for two for patriotism that weekend, which could fills my quota until I see my next eagle. I'd like to think there's no one keeping track but myself, but I like to keep a little tally going of how culturally  engaged I am and every now and then I really buck some deep-rooted beliefs of Americana, so I try and make up for it where I can. I wrote a paper my senior year on what it means to be American, in which I argued that in our non-identity we find identity, and I got an A, but I still feel like I somehow cheated my way out of it.  But that's a story for a different day.

I'd been really wanting to go bird hunting with my Dad, because it's an activity that I think I could be quite suited for, given the opportunity. Now that we have Dexter, too, my interest has become increasingly piqued. To watch man and animal work together to prove mastery over another animal--what's not to love? So we get out there to a place called Olex (fun fact: it has a facebook page despite the fact that) and this ranch is in a wide, flat-bottomed canyon with steep hills on either side and fields across. We started slow, terribly slow--we charged through waist high (read: chest high on me) brush, corn and vines, and I couldn't figure out how to hold the gun without it getting caught somehow in the tangle of plant life, and I was watching to make sure we were all still in a line and also thinking how will I ever get this thing tucked into the pocket with all this goddamn brush and all sounds were muffled from the earplug, so it combined to be a bit of a trying experience at the start. But it was all under a peerless blue sky, so how can I complain? Well, I was hot. But enough of that--when we did get really underway, it was a heart-racing experience. I can't accurately portray how it is when a bird flies and six shots ring out, because it happens in a way that is non-linear. It happens all at once, so it seems like when ROOSTER is being yelled you're also clicking off the safety shoving the butt of the gun into your shoulder pulling the trigger taking aim starting from the noise watching the bird fall and then taking a deep breath. And all the while you feel like the image of a rooster pheasant is still hung in the sky, maybe it's just your eyes smarting from the sun, but you think you could still maybe see him outlined and glinting in colors that are too beautiful for the human mind to come up with. How did that happen, you start to think, when the neck is being wrung. How could I, of dulled instinct and weak limbs, make that happen?

Hunting, in my limited experience, is a powerful reminder of where we came from and what a treasure our minds are. It is only through the strength of our innovation, our little brains, that we could ever truly compete with nature and her other creatures. Only with the product of another man's mind and with the help of a dog that has been bred for the purpose could we kill a bird. So if anything, hunting is a lesson in gratitude and appreciation, and ultimately of respect. For the animal that gave its life and in recognition that we are, all of us, only one part of a much larger picture. And that's a good thing too.

xoxo, Lauren

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Paint Yer Wagon

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Paint Yer Wagon

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IMG_3793As a part of my ongoing tour of Oregon, my Mom and I trucked over to the far East and visited Baker. For the uninitiated, Baker City is where my Dad and the original thirteen grew up, earning the very clever nickname of Baker's Dozen. Do you see what they did there? Anyway, Baker has its roots in gold mining and still has former vestiges of the glory days, aka the 1800s, tucked away here and there, which is kind of cool. Also I just googled Baker and apparently it's the namesake of Edward D. Baker, the only senator to ever die in military combat. So that's a fun and oddly fitting fact. Really though, there are few places that lay claim to my heart like Baker Valley does. The drive in is maybe one of my favorite parts--the highway is long and straight through the heart of the valley, fields of green and gold spread out to meet the Elkhorns, and suddenly you are caught in a world of color and height that didn't seem possible a few minutes before. Sadly, it rained for the whole 22 hours we were there, so I only caught glimpses of the mountains, shrouded in fog and rain and snow, and almighty mystery. We were there one year in the summer at the high school football field with the sun setting and the mountains were a dark purple and the sky was a pinky gold, and I wondered how, if you were the Baker's Dozen, you could get used to seeing anything else.

I mean when we were walking down main street in the rain, and I thought of how it would be if it were snow, I started to whistle a different tune. But that's neither here nor there. I love Baker for many reasons, and maybe because I never had to live there, it was always just a place we got to go and experience nearly total freedom in. I have confused, kid memories of Baker--images that are difficult to articulate and verge more on sensory perception than actual memory. My grandparent's house is a maze of jumbled things seen, heard and smelled so that I don't always know what goes with what. The stairs creaking and red and black shag carpet, nailed down. The garden room. The sound of the tub filling up upstairs, and maybe some whales that were there? The kitchen that towered over us and carnival glass, that table by the door with the photos, the piano keys that were stiff, the wall of photos, Grandma used to keep potpourri on the sideboard in the dining room,  the closet that Kyle got stung in, the yawning maw of the basement, the porch--a yellow and brown knit blanket, old-school roller skates, a push lawn mower, lace curtains, the miniature composer busts. A  thousand things I can't quite remember but won't quite forget.

My earliest memories of Baker are really of my grandparents, but then we got older and my Dad started the race, and then Baker got tangled into those memories--too numerous to count, because those times I remember more of. Or remember in a different way, I guess. My time with Mom there, those sweet 22 hours, were more reminiscent of the race days, because we went to all the places we would haunt for that weekend in June. Betty's Books, Bella, Carnegie Art Center, and I felt a little pang for the places that weren't there anymore. RIP Mad Matilda's and Sane Jane's. Also, my Mom is somewhat convinced that she can single-handedly support Baker's economy so I've always looked forward to Baker as a time to restore my book/kitchen good supply.

I have to note too, that though I realized a long time ago that be it nature vs. nurture, I am my father's daughter, I love and admire my mom more than I can possibly say. She is, bar none, one of the most generous and genuine people I've ever had the pleasure of learning from. She's a believer in the power of humanity, the benefit of the doubt, and in good, old-fashioned earnestness. It's almost unbelievable how wholeheartedly she buys in, but it's a beautiful thing. Mom believes. The grace of Claire has become something almost mythical to the people she regularly comes in contact with, and it's well-deserved. Also, my mom delights in things. Like really loves little things. This is one thing I think I can legitimately claim to have somehow, miraculously, inherited, but not to the same degree that my mom can find joy in very small, innocuous daily occurrences. When we were driving home from the auction, she drove twice past a house on the block my cousins live on now that had a candle lit in every window of an otherwise dark house. She was right to, it was magical, but who does that? I just hope that the people of that house knew someone out in the night was so grateful for that gesture, because more of my mom's kind of light should be known.

When we were in Baker, we also drove to see where my grandma was buried. It was raining and cold, and no one else was there. The grass hadn't taken yet so I could still see where the outline of the grave was, and that I didn't like. I had a hard time with that, I don't know why. A little too much reality, I think, for me. So we left a little pot of mums and a tiny pumpkin--another Claire gesture, because G. Claire loved Halloween, and called it a day.

So that was a little part of the Baker trip, a dense experience if there was one, and far more in 22 hours than you would maybe think could be. But stories for a different day, memories for another night.

xoxo, Lauren

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Bare Bones

Elk Lake

On Saturday morning, I found myself laying in bed, drifting in and out of consciousness and listening intently for footsteps upstairs. Because, you see, Rachelle's room is right above mine, and if she was walking around, it would mean that it was definitely time for me to get up. That's a difficult reality to face when it's 7 a.m. on a Saturday and you went to Putter's* three (separate) times the night before, but that's neither here nor there. Somehow, with a strength I think should be awarded some kind of medal, I got up, packed and into a car headed for Bend, OR.

The drive highlights included, but weren't limited to: a stop in Sandy, OR for Joe's Donuts--the donuts were delicious, the rancid milk Rachelle drank was not. We found lactose free yogurt in a questionable gas station in Warm Springs, which didn't make sense until we remembered that our people on the rez weren't good with lactose either--I finally connected some dots between my own miserable GI tract and my heritage, so that was positive. Then I slept the rest of the way to Bend, without any shame whatsoever.

Once we got into town we sped right on up into the Cascades, found the most desolate lake possible, and claimed a piece of it as our own. Elk Lake was stark and grey when we arrived, all smoke and mirrors. We thought maybe you could see Bachelor in the summer from where we were, but we quickly realized that fall was certainly upon us. This was reinforced later when we met my Muckle Matt in downtown Bend and told him that we were camping in the Cascades. He asked if we were on drugs, because it'll snow up there tonight no question. My Aunt Lynn came to our rescue, saying that was the kind of thing they would've done too at our age, for sure. So naturally we shrugged all warnings off and plunged ahead into the dark, cold night up at Elk Lake.

A sidenote, before I outline the perils of that journey: I'm discovering more and more how  enjoyable my family is. Now that my sister and I are semi-adults (she may be full adult, I may be less than, so semi cuts it pretty close to the truth) we can engage in real conversation with my Aunts and Uncles. It's great, I love it. It's like a whole new set of friends, who are cool and wise, with great stories. It's sort of bewildering, because it's an odd combination of feeling like I'm trying to impress people who have no choice but to care about me, but also security because, well, they have no choice but to care about me. My Uncle Matt and Aunt Lynn are a lot of fun, and we had a great time with them.

When we drove back up to Elk Lake after a stint at Oktoberfest, which felt surprisingly authentic and included a lot of collective Ya-ing to the beat of an authentic oom-pah band, we encountered a sort of fog clinging to the road that was terrifying for someone with an imagination like mine. Which is to say, the rest of the night all I could think about was how there may or may not be a skeleton army in the woods. Why would I think that, you might ask. I have no good answer, but if you could think of anything more horrible than having to fight a skeleton in the dark, tell me what it would be. But first, consider this: the battle sounds would be bone on bone all the time, and if there is anything more horrible than bone on bone sounds, I never want to know. But all in all it wasn't that bad of a night, we really were plenty warm and we knew that even if we weren't, it was going to make a great story. In some ways, we were almost crossing our fingers for snow the next morning!

I was thinking later about the perverseness of that, of half hoping for the worst, because Ben was running a half marathon in some pretty brutal conditions. Rachelle and I stood huddled by a ski lift as snow flurried around the start line and nearly 120 people gathered to do this race, and I thought, these people are crazy. They ran through a blizzard on the top of Mount Bachelor! But later, when Ben said that it was definitevely the hardest race of his life but how happy he was that he did it, it hit me. I think, in a lot of ways, we're all living for the story we'll tell later--about the coldest night we ever spent, about the time we blitzed from Portland to Bend and back in 36 hours, ran into an Oktoberfest, slept in the rain on a deserted lake, and watched Ben run the hardest race of his life. If experiences are what define you, force you to grow, then we're all in the business of getting as much out of our experiences as we can. And sometimes that means doing things that seem a little crazy from the outside, but really are just a chance to stretch outside the norm, bring home a tale to tell and chalk it up to experience.

I've been making a real effort to do this lately, because it's keeping my mind busy and my heart full. I'm finding that I am best when doing, at my sharpest and clearest when I've gone and tried something new. The will to explore and travel and go beyond where we've gone before, that's something to nurture. Within limits, of course. I mean I'm taking trips to Bend. I had a friend that I went to Senegal with move to Antarctica a couple weeks ago. I said au revoir, mon ami, have a great time--I probably won't visit. We can only do so much, right?

xoxo, Lauren

*Putter's is rapidly becoming my new favorite watering hole. Everyone said don't go in, so naturally I was inexplicably drawn to it. What can I say? Nothing can be as good/bad as the Boot, so I think I'll be fine.

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