I sleep pretty well in the back of a car, but in a bed with a humming fridge, nope. I unplugged it bad temperedley, jammed earplugs in my ears and next thing it was 8.30am
Denio post office was officially opened in 1880 and so was officially on the map. It was apparently first settled by a man called Aaron Denio some time around 1885 right on the Oregon border, but then quite a few of the population apparently floated a mile down the road into Nevada to take advantage of the Liberal Liquor laws in that state. Hence Denio Junction. Today there are apparently 47 people who live there. There is no gas or diesel, but there was something else.
I stepped out that morning, it was somewhere I have only dreamt about. I loved it instantly, just sage as far as I could see closed in by the distant mesas, a dirty crossroads, and run down motel, my car right out front right there but most of all High plains stillness with the beautiful call of the Killdeer whistling, exquisitely peaceful.
I think my heart opened wide right there and then. It seems I am 5744 miles away from home as the crow fly’s. It was somewhere far far out of my world, what I had been looking for
Inside the Reception- Restaurant was an older lady eating scrambled eggs and tomatoes at the bar with a fork.
As I stepped in she said without looking round
“I knew I could make somebody come in here this morning what can I git ya”
I went up to the bar and spoke my very best English
“Do you have any coffee“ I said
“Right over there” She pointed out the serve yourself flasks, I really wanted to write as I had been so wasted tired last night had a couple of bottles of beer and just didn’t have the heart to sit up any later.
As I was plugging in, and she called over from the bar
“So where you from, you sure aren’t from round here”
I felt the tug and it felt rude not to go and join her at the bar. I was glad I did.
I sat down at the bar she didn’t look up, she was playing cards on her phone.
“A gambler eh” I said with a smile. She winced, turned to look at me and put the phone down. I’d taken my maps with me and laid them across the bar, everyone loves a good map, particularly if you’re a local and a stranger has the map and is asking you for your knowledge.
And so we began. She was christened Malvina Maclean of Scottish ancestry. Her dad had called her Tykye on the day she was born and that is the name that stuck. Told me about how her grandmother had set out from South Dakota in 1903 on a wooden flat bed wagon and ended up just north of here. They had apparently wandered for a few years a homestead here a homestead there till finally they settled just north of here over looking a the bend of a river I forget which one. She told me her father hadn’t got children “me” till he was 55 and had another one later too, her brother.
I laughed “Well that’s great, there’s still hope for me then”
Malvina was a rich vein, we had a laugh. She would look up and turn at every vehicle that passed by, she seemed to know each truck. A habit developed by the scarcity of things passing there I believe. I really liked her. I always loved a tough nut with a soft center. She told me to look up a politician called ‘Ben Carson’ a black man who had been in the running
“The only one I have ever heard talk some sense’”
If Malvina said so I suspect he has something. Dropped out of the running because he knew he didn’t stand a chance apparently.
She said with a very melancholy tone. “He’s just to smart for the average person and too clever for Washington and it’s deeply worrying… kids have got no common sense, but people are tired of being pushed around and so now you got Donald trump but… he talks crazy”
She told me about the BLM and the stand off in Malheur refuge earlier this year January 26th It seems that Ammon D Bundy son of Clive Bundy a known anti government protester Led a group of 26 men called the ‘citizens for constitutional freedom’ He said he began leading the occupation of the refuge after receiving a divine message ordering him to do so. The siege was in protest f a couple of locals who had been jailed for 5 years for arson on federal land you just get the impression that behind the scenes there are simmering resentments.
I’d asked “Really, well what is there”
She relied dead pan “Absolutely nothing”
I thought there were parallels to the struggle of Native Americans. Out here it is easy to forget that the US government over on the east can summon great force when need be. The forces out here are subtle and have a very different power, it is important to remember their difference and work with them.
It was hard to pull myself away, I felt her and I’m sure she felt me, It may seems strange but sometimes with some people that is how things are isn’t it.
She told a joke about being Scottish and belly rocked laughing in the chair “I sure wish my husband was around to hear that one” I sensed her sadness
“I know” she said ironically ”You gotta go, you got some miles to do yet.
I had breakfast on Hummingbird outside cabin room No2 in the parking lot.
Then rolled slowly crunching out of the lot and north up highway 205 in the Burns direction. I hadn’t gone far when I noticed the Denio graveyard. I turned right around. Gosh what a desolate place.
I am not sure why but something was stirring within me, I stayed a while just loving the air and the peace. The sound of the wind and the taste of the sage scented air.
Back in the car I drove about another mile. Then just stopped and got out and sank down on the side of the road sat in amongst the Sage. I picked a few branches of and smelled them up and in. It triggered something deep melancholy in me. I pulled at more leaves and branches and rubbed them all over my hands and fingers around my neck and face.
I have missed this feeling so deeply and so profoundly, Sage has the power to transport, to cleanse, I had never really understood what that meant till right then. But now I do. I had to go away and return too understand it. I have missed these places more deeply that I have words for.
I sat there oddly shaped but just so comfortable looking out across the land the killdeer whistling and the air on my skin and through my hair my eyes welled up with tears.
I buried my face in the sage closed my eyes breathed it in and opened up.
I was looking at a narrow mountain gorge, a smooth river, still like glass. Then up ahead was a damn, beyond it the waters were being allowed to flow and great clouds of water spray and mist were rising up into the air.
Someone said “There is power there beyond the falls”
I came too, realized the Old one was to my right, Cynthia to my left, arms across my shoulders, JC somewhere to my left behind them. I didn’t need them right then but I was glad of them.
Sage has the power to transport, the gates are opening.
I took some for the car and rubbed more on my hands, I so I could smell it all day whilst I held the wheel. Jack rabbits and chipmunks ran across the road in front of us all morning as we drove on. Solitary Crows sat sentinel like on posts or in a tree every now and again, following us with back glinting eyes, checking our progress, shoulders hunched up under heavy black feather coats. The smell of sage filled the car.
I stopped in at the town of fields to fill up with gas. Usually in Oregon there is an attendant who put the gas in for you. Out here nobody bothered. Afterwards I went into the restaurant, which was one of about 10 buildings there.
The girl asked “How much”
I said “$17”
“Evens?” she said
“Yeah” I smiled
I loved it.
A fat guy sat at the counter with his fat wife who must have belonged to the RV outside, picked up his wallet off the bar as I walked in, they weren’t from round here, it showed.
It is hard to describe the sheer scale and beauty of this place, I am so glad that I came this way, the roads curved and lifted gently rhythmically seductively, around every rise or around every bend another breath taking view opened up.
Flat topped pink mesas with tumbled down sloping sides carpeted of in every direction pale olive green pastel sage. Malvina had said it was like being out at sea, and I thought you would need a strong rudder to set a course out there and survive here.
I had been thinking about it all yesterday about how tough the homesteaders were to drag flat-bottomed wagons with wooden wheels across this land. It looks flat but is anything but close up. To me it was a revelation, to them I wondered if it had been terrifying. Then it came to me that the Indians, before the gun and the horse had been introduced and re-introduced into this land, had wandered across following game with only dogs to help them.
Malvina had said in a far off tone. “The Indians, they knew how to get the best out of this land.”
The Homesteaders leant their shoulders against it, the Indians; I imagine something else altogether, but all the same, both remarkable. The gods are close here.
We are all searching for some sort of meaning right? The Gods do not just exist in lonesome places, though there is jaw dropping beauty here. Perhaps the reason we seek solitude is to understand community. God is in community, kindness and generosity, it doesn’t matter who your god is or is called or what your book is titled if you have one, God is always where we gather and perhaps as Malvina had said “Is in good conversation”
So Hummingbird and I onwards we went, right up close to the mesas, along glittering streams, far out across the sage on arrow straight roads, up over the top of the rises, gasping at the sheer expanse, the blue sky’s white clouds with flat bottoms sat horizontally to the mesa tops.
Yesterday I had been tired and gulping today I was slowly drinking, I slowed right down but 60mph felt like a snails pace in such vastness, breathtaking and joyful.
In this quiet, the band came to mind. Have you ever noticed being clenched in an area of your body? There I was deeply peaceful and open, then The Fits came to mind with a jolt and I realized that I clenched up in and around my lower stomach and my ass. That has to stop, a bad habit, survival and anger.
I’m doing fine right now and they have no power over me, it had hurt but I let them all go.
I worked on relaxing that old tension up on the mesa tops with the sage stretching me and stretching for what seemed forever. The odd twisted ancient juniper too, they haven’t got the size of the redwoods but they have the twist of time marked on them, survivors.
A little lower down and the red rusty willows appear like red head amongst the green and not yet in bloom, clinging to the streams, territorially. Douglas fir trees far away, rings around feet of the snow crowned mountains, shadows of the clouds moving easily imperceptibly and perfectly across the land.
I turned off at the Diamond Craters a geological wonder I’d been told and again wonderfully peaceful and all to myself, I had not seen another soul on the road all day. I strolled and peered into the ancient craters, though apparently geologically very young only 17,000 years old.
Then across to the Round barn where everybody I had talked too said I must go there. I very nearly lost control of Hummingbird here. Keep your eyes on the road, eyes wide open at all times. A split second and it could have all been over, I just about avoided turning over in a ditch, really. It snapped me right back out of my revere. Shit!!
A beautiful old man in a beautiful gift shop there pointed me to the bathroom and gave me a free coffee. We’d chatted a little I’d said
“ I can’t believe how vast and wild it still is out here
“Yep” he said dryly “That’s the way we like it, just about the only place left in the US that is still open like this, keep to the back roads son if you want to see it”
A man called French Pete he had arrived from California with 1200 head of cattle and settled in Donner & Blitzen valley. This soon multiplied to 45,000 head of cattle and 3000 horses to work them over 100,000 acres of land know as P ranch. They had needed a place to exercise and train the horses in the winter and it has to be said back in the 1800’s he was way ahead of his time. Though the old guy in the shop Dick Jenkins told me that in fact a guy called Nimrod Comegys actually built the barns and by “all” accounts French Pete was a bit of a bully and was eventually shot dead for pushing people around one to many homesteaders one to many times.
It was time I thought we’d better head east, though I did contemplate staying out there for another day, but adventurer said ‘haul ass east’ you have other things to see. But it was truly a wrench.
A splash of red soil exposed and washed down the side of a side of a rolling hill just looked so exquisitely and delicately beautiful against the olive sage and dark soil, around every bend and over every rise was simply extraordinary.
I had to put my foot down a little and Hummingbird responded, easily handling 90mph we turned right at Burns Junction the road was instantly busier with great heavy metal monster trucks coming up from Nevada and going into Idaho or further. The landscape also became lighter with creamy yellow clays as rolling hills took over from the mesas which seemed to just vanish into the earth
I stooped in at Rome on the 95 for a coffee, but it seemed that Rome was closed for refurbishments, I would have to wait for the Jordan Valley where my cup would be replenished and so it came to be, for that is exactly what happened and it was good.
Just about at the golden hour the land had a beautiful golden tinge to it, Pools and rivers all shone silver as we climbed higher for one last time around the time we crossed Idaho State line and began the descent down a 6% grade cut through the mountains an incredible feat of engineering. Down onto the farm lands below.
I noted droplets of lights moving below we moved forwards and went to join them and we also became the flow, streams and tributaries of light coming down from the mountains joining together flowing into the town of Napa where the red neon lights dazzled startled me. It was amazing to see.
“You are wide open” she said, “Be careful”
Then our vessel dropped down onto the I-84 freeway, the stream now a river, I joined the red one flowing south east and coming towards me seemed to be a blizzard of white, I had to really focus the captain with hands on the wheel, then off into Boise.
As we rolled into town I said out loud “Ok, Where to guys?”
And I kid you not something said loud and clean
“You’ll be guided” It was Cynthia again.
I steered off the freeway, just on a whim then coasted to downtown almost with my foot of the peddle we had momentum right onto main street and ended up at a beautiful place called “Pengillys bar 513 west main street” Where a most excellent band called Tyler and the Train robbers where playing they were genuinely excellent .
I had work to do and tapped away sipping IPA till 2am in the morning. I met the singer in the loo a warm guy I recognized angst about touring and sensed his band were fluid, it’s hard to get commitment from people in that rock and roll country and western world
And so where to sleep, gosh I needed too