The Way Less Traveled, A Photo-free Post About Images

Klee and I recently took a little trip to Priest Lake in Idaho. We were to join some friends who were opening up their family cabin at the lake for the summer. It was not yet summer, still spring but summer was only a week away. On being forewarned that there was no cellular service at the cabin, I was ecstatic. For some reason I even inflated this to mean no internet access either. It turned out this wasn’t the case, however, I didn’t realize that until we were there and I simply elected to behave as though it was the case. Such a venture suited me and one must stick to some of ones grand plans. The idea added to the promise of visiting face-to-face with good friends we don’t see often enough and actually getting some quality reading time in. In fact, I was overjoyed for that and other reasons: “I won’t have to feel guilty for not checking my e-mail and being ‘behind’ on Facebook!” I thought, and yes, a saner part of my mind asked, “And, what is ‘behind’ on Facebook supposed to mean? I get a chance to peruse and comment and “Like” or react on a given day, or I don’t…social media is not compulsory. True, I do like keeping in touch and sharing ideas and experiences with friends and family who are far away and I don’t see much of, but there is always the option of calling and talking live…” Well, that is part of the rambling debate that I carried out with myself in the privacy of my head. So I ventured off considering myself going at least partly “off the grid”. Happily, we would have the comforts of power and water, once all that got turned back on at the cabin for the season.

OK the journey. I love road trips. I enjoy watching things either from a motorcycle or from a car. We were driving the car this trip and thus, I began my almost device-free vacation on the road. This “devicelessness” was aided by the fact that we avoided the Interstate highway system for all but a very short connecting points toward the end of our trip. We did take some state highways, but we also took many a ranch road, lanes, loops, and scenic byways that connected one highway to another. Two lane blacktop! Much of it literally, two lanes, one lane going one way, one lane heading the opposite direction and life being lived and passing by just outside the window without barricades or barriers or Interstate rights-of-way separating or even just distancing us from the world. As an example of the graphic difference between the Interstate and “lesser roads”, we recently, on another short trip, crossed the South Umpqua river on I-5 and the only way we knew that was the signage for the river. Unless you are in a tall truck, you can’t see river over the bridge barrier. Cross it in another spot on a highway or backroad though and yes, there below and beside you is the river.

Oddly, and this was unintentional or at least unplanned, but I didn’t even use my SLR camera (which I did bring along) or my phone to take pictures. Many of the things I wanted to record seemed better left as vivid memories. Once you start to grab images from inside the car, you miss bits and pieces of the landscape, or a bird, or other critter. The images rarely carry the full impact and emotion evoked by the landscape that I want to capture. I know from experience that my photos rarely capture the spaciousness and beauty of these wide open spaces. Hence, this is a photo-free post. I didn’t even crack open our much-used Roadside Geology of Oregon because once you start looking something up, as interesting as it is to read about, you are missing other things. There are trips where getting the scoop on a particularly fantastic bit of landscape is important or just simply fun to me and fellow passengers. This trip was all about connecting with the whole panorama as it unfolded.

We had lovely weather. Sun in a big blue sky. We started from our neighborhood in Ashland, adjacent to Route 66, which we took for a short distance in order to access Dead Indian Memorial Road. It is one of the oldest routes across the Cascades in southern Oregon crossing the headwaters of Dead Indian Creek, hence the road’s name. Thus began our trip, often serpentining through ranch land, fields, and open range. Roads that felt connected to the ranches and their livestock, people, communities, and wildlife up close, almost “reach out and touch” close.

I saw baby bovines enjoying mama’s milk and the mothers, in turn, licking the backs of their offspring. I saw one errant baby bovine quite taken with nibbling mama’s ear instead and I saw the mother’s philosophical patience with the whole process. I saw beautifully colored and varied types of bovines and horses eating grass, surrounded by tiny black birds probably nibbling insects in the grass. I saw the swishing of horses’ tails in the sun. One bovine was scratching his or her chin on the top wire of the fence so close I felt I could reach out and help scratch. In open range country we saw bovines even closer to the road standing amongst sage or in a stream. I saw real live cowboys on their horses working a herd of cattle. I saw a field of goats galore. I’ve never seen so many goats in one place. One goat was rubbing his whole side against the fence, bowing the fence out and I saw the look of total satisfaction on its face. I saw two huge American White Pelicans taking off from the surface of Ochoco Reservoir, not six feet away. I could see the details of the patterns on their wings, the texture of their black wingtip feathers in contrast to the rest of their white feathers. I felt like I could reach out and touch one of their wingtips. We drove through basalts, columns, talus, high open pastures and plains, forests, and fields full of wildflowers, and much to my delight, we saw magpies, those harlequin corvids full of brains, humor, jest and fancy flight. I saw vistas of rolling multi-colored hills that make a person want to become a landscape artist. All of this without the weird competitive agro that seems part and parcel of Interstate travel these days. We waited for road construction where the folks holding the signs smiled, made eye contact and exchanged banter with us as we waited our turn.

Through one particularly vast and beautiful landscape that seemed to reach on forever, our random playlist served up Frightened Rabbit’s “Things” and it seemed particularly appropriate. I cranked the volume up and sang along at the top of my lungs:

“Here is the evidence of human existence
A splitting bin bag next to two damp boxes
And I cannot find a name for them
They hardly show that I have lived
And the dust it settles on these things,
Displays my age again
Like a new skin made from old skin that has barely been lived in…
I didn’t need these things I didn’t need them…”

We arrived at the lake already refreshed and yes, it was wonderful spending quiet time with friends, sharing good food, the beautiful view of the lake outside the window, the fire, reading, and a thunderstorm. I will remember the journey, the visit, the vistas via the images stored away in my head.

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