I’m reminded of a trip we took maybe the second year we were married. We were doing a college concert tour. Somewhere past Ocala, Florida, a town with which we seemed to have bad luck always, I was asleep on the front seat next to Jerry with my head resting on his knee. He was doing ninety-five on a rainy wet road in our leased car. He got chased down by an Ocala highway patrolman. Jerry stopped the car and walked back to talk with the officer who chewed him out royally. I woke up and raised my head up. The cop saw me, and I saw him. His face was beet-red with the veins popping out on his neck. He yelled some more, wrote Jerry a ticket and then drove off. I asked Jerry what happened. He said, “He was about to throw me in jail. He was pissed off because he had to do one-fifteen to catch me. Lucky he saw you and decided just to write the ticket instead.”
My beloved is afflicted with a leadfoot.
We get down to the Columbia River and cross the bridge into Oregon. Like magic, suddenly the sun is out. Dramatic clouds pass over, but there is plenty of sky. We go down and turn left to pick up the 84, then head over to a town called The Dalles. I have no idea how to say the name. Is it “The Dales?” Or maybe “The Dallas?” How about “The Dawls?” Beats me. I’ll need to find out after we return home.
Shortly after however-you-pronounce-it, at the east end of town before the dam, there is supposed to be a right turn on to the 197. The drive on the 84 from Portland has been spectacular with evergreen stands of trees all pointy like teeth waiting to taste the sky or birds in flight or the air. There are gorgeous huge rises of rock patched with evergreen trees and vertically-striated dirt-colored mineral formations. Over all of it like a blessing from the gods is an immense sky with just a few clouds. As if for emphasis, to the north there is a long blue line of low mountains crowned with dirty wool-colored clouds with an obvious rain shower or two connecting those clouds to the ground below.
We find the 197 and hang a right. Within ten minutes, we are driving through big curvaceous hills covered in golden stalks, everything looking like some giant Japanese Zen gardener raked it all into patterns following the contours of the land. There are dirt-colored patches in the fields, maybe harvest aftermaths of some other type of crop. Everything now is short stalks, golden or dun-colored. I’m not enough of a farmer really to know, but I’m thinking wheat. Otherwise, I’m looking at what remains of the biggest hay harvest I’ve ever seen. I’m more inclined towards wheat, though. I’ve seen a hayfield after it was mown. This does not look the same. I’m told later the crop possibly is alfalfa.
We drive down 197 for about one hundred forty miles. We fly through this country that looks like northern California on steroids. The sun shines directly in our eyes often enough to half-blind us as Jerry drives the switchbacks down to the valley. Sun that brutal and bright can almost be sickening, but the golden light it pours all over everything is a little like the way butter tastes on popcorn. It just triples the sensory appeal. As we get nearer to our destination, the sun begins to set behind a cloud one minute and come back out the next. The distant golden hills with the shadows cast by the fading light and backed by the azure sky look like some kind of Cecil B. De Mille movie set, if it had been designed by Maxfield Parrish. I try for as many good pictures as I can on my phone before the light fades away into night.
Later we have checked in to a motel, had a meal and I sit writing this. Mr. Wonderful is asleep. My leadfoot drove all day with only two breaks. He’s earned his rest. I’ll be turning in soon myself, hoping I’ve caught some of those amazing views and stored them in my brain where they can come out again in my dreams. I have photos, and I’ll enjoy them, but nothing beats the living of something, nothing at all that I can imagine.