“I don’t want to leave,” I tell Sherri, as she shifts her considerable weight from one foot to another. She smiles and gives me a knowing look.
“I hear that all the time. From all the kids and the adults now, too,” she replies as she ambles to her red Jeep. While it wasn’t exactly an invitation to stay, it was an acknowledgement of our time there at her tiny and well-loved camp.
The day before, right about the time Mom and I had made it to the top of Cabbage Hill, I had begun to feel the all-too-familiar criticism creep up my spine. At the crest, our trek across the eastern Oregon farm land had turned into the wooded trail of the Blue Mountains that stretched south to La Grande and the Grande Ronde Valley. We were headed for Cove, a berg of six hundred individuals, to the camp that Dad had loved dearly and had put so many hours of his energy into seeing improve. His fingerprints were all over it, I had heard, and now was my chance to see it for myself.
I flew into Portland Sunday night feeling a bit at loose ends. My first week of unemployment had been busy and productive, but I couldn’t shake the feeling of “now what?” I had that antsy feeling that maybe I was missing something, setting my sights on something unimportant, or worse yet foolish. This trip to Oregon was meant for relaxing, but wasn’t I already doing that in Los Angeles? The last fews days in that city had just been loud and distracting, hot and crowded and xenophobic.
Tuesday we took off for Cove as Mom and I settled into our conversational cadance and I realized how often she spoke about the past — the far distant past — about our first weeks and months in Oregon and how foreign it had all been. I asked if she regretted it, if she thought life might have turned out more interesting or better had we stayed in New Jersey. I listened for the faintest hint of bitterness in her voice, if in those days her and Dad had a great expentancy for our life in Oregon before the rug was swept out from under them, if having Judson College close seemed like the folding of a dream they had uprooted their whole lives for. Had they ever really gotten over it? Is this what “getting stuck in a moment” looked like?
I took a hard gulp as I recalled recent conversations with God, telling him that I had missed that feeling of being an essential part of something lately. Was he ever going to give me that opportunity again?
Later that evening, those questions slipped into the darkness as Mom and I sat under the stars, weaved into a thick blanket and tossed against an inky black sky. Frogs chirped, coyotes yipped and some far-off farm machinery ground away. Its gorgeousness rendered my mind silent and peaceful for once. Gazing across the acres of farmland, the fields of alfalfa and harvested mint, its scent lingering faintly in the air, was “balm for the soul,” as Mom put it as we sat on the grass sipping coffee the next morning.
Being there, in nature, seeing life lived in simple and managable terms, the ways of the big city felt more and more like folly; the schemes of the striving masses like farce. I chuckled to myself as I realized that you can take Eastern Oregon out of the girl, but, well you know the rest…