In the gaze of the other

"My mistress' eyes are nothing…"

Traveling On 

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Emerging from the mountain forests, Dunsmuir.
 
A few hours’ sleep at a rest stop north of Eugene and we rise early to greet the day bleary-eyed. Hard travel brings back the days of recent college graduate pals taking a road trip across country on $300.00, Michael Jackson’s Thriller playing on cassette the whole way. It was the 80s. 

Passing through Redding, CA, I thought of you Holly and wondered how you fare. I saw your telephone listing for a massage therapist in the Redding White Pages a long time ago, which has not changed–no email address, no Facebook or Twitter listing. Maybe you no longer exist except in a journey I dreamed. 

That trip marked me, the wonder and adventure of freedom: two young girls setting off to see beauty up and down the west coast and across the Rockies to DC where Holly’s pastry chef boyfriend awaited and our fabulous meal at the Watergate Hotel with chef Jean Louis pulling out the culinary stops to impress him. Best meal of my life up til then (not hard given my humble beginnings). The VolksWagen bug Don had us drive, the one built by a friend, gave us hell, but I would not have it any other way. That VW thematizes the adventures and misadventures of youth without plans or time to savor–just doing. 
  
We laughed getting high and chasing deer in the Rockies until Holly got altitude sickness and I was tasked to figure out how I was going to get her out of the field and back to the car. I was so thin then, her too, which was unusual for her. She tended toward the thick. Her green eyes were fierce cat eyes, her brows perpetually shaped in perfect arches, a gift of her mother’s singing praises of electrolysis. 

I still see her putting on lipstick, covering the thin bottom lip and then using that lip to coat the nearly non-existent upper lip. I watched that so many times. I coat my lips the same way, when I wear lipstick, which is not often. And I think of her doing that each time. Amazing how time sticks to the bones of memory, especially from youth. I recall reading that those early incipient memories recall to mind the clearest due to their being memory-etching first-timers, before much clutter dulls a mind to narrowing newness.

  
The green of Holly’s eyes are unmatched to the green everywhere outside Southern California, which refreshes always. Flying into LAX continually reminds me that I live on a desert, brown and brimming in short scrubby smatterings of life thrust. The effusion of greenery near Portland contrasts starkly. Of course the cloudy skies also remind me of why. 

We search for breakfast. Driver’s choice so I prepare myself for sweet, blanched flour French fine pastry.

I have married my father, someone always looking for the next meal, the gourmand’s preoccupation. Only my father feasts at the other end of the culinary spectrum: Burger King hamburgers and fries.
   
The Columbia River pours by in majestic pines, thick lush Douglas fir lined highways guided magisterially by the Cascade mountain range overlooking its charges. Keep green. Between the Dalles and Hood River, the sun bathes the trees, big leaf maples, Ponderosa pine, cottonwood and Oregon white oak, green glossy frost. The heaviness of the dense foliage leans in to the road with a threatening call. 

Crossing Bonneville dam, the daisies line the road spotty white among the tall wheatland grass and Western hemlock. Mountain crags, humps of black rock jutting through the pines decorating its crown like liberty, pop from nowhwere. Stone walls line a country road nearing the cobblestone bridge. And the clouds hover and stare.

  
Deforestation scars the mountain tops, golden grass exposed through the sparse trees, soldiers left standing in the war against industry, disrespect for the land, chunks of the grab gone for timber. Small vineyards orderly tucked behind a hill also pen the hand of man on nature’s back.

Hairy rocks, like my old man’s shoulders. What grows there on the spiny rocks fungus stained hard knocks of geological story?

4 hours outside Spokane.  

The four hour rest at the truck stop outside of Eugene refreshed what little remains of our spunk and patience. Traveling with two teens and their corny-humored father wears the patience of even saints. I am no saint. I am not remotely patient.

The mugs and the fire burnished hills, repaired by time and patience, sprigs determined to fulfill their seeded destinies. 

The Columbia Gorge, a myriad of textures and vertical measures, scrubbed to ethereal. 

  
And the sterile blanched wheat colored hills remind us that altitude changes flora. The high desert provides stark contrast to the lush landscape of the Gorge. We must be headed to Spokane soon. 

A huge expanse of farmland and chaparral heading east to Spokane peppered with silos and green houses on near barren landscapes under a great polka dot open sky. The clouds form cotton balls. Water sprinklers look like sin here in a drought. Perhaps Oregon has forgotten our drought. California certainly has not. Water will drive the next world or civil war, I am reminded.

  
And the car ahead contains my two daughters speeding up and leaving us behind. Somehow that seems destined.

The hills are dusted with aqueous green scrub, mid-high interspersed with deep forest greens and kelly greens, hunter and sage too. The nature paint protrays delightful. Somehow I think artifical irrigation is the cause.

Umatilla Irrigon region.

And she is gone. Her sister will wean her these two weeks before returning as the lone twin of upstairs living.

  
He complains of the enormity of it, the lack of planning, the endless driving non-stop, sleepless roadside napping round the clock and the expense of renting a van with its out of state costs, yet the real vastness of disbelief is in her leaving. While nothing is ever permanent and kids go off to college and come back, live back at home, the leaving and living on her own is an indelible shift forever away from the cocoon years that stretched from conception to that first departure. 

She has left her childhood behind for good as the step back in will always be from a distance, a retrospect. Like unringing a bell, she cannot ever live the purity of those flexed years of growing up seamless from birth to first steps, first walking away to another’s hands in school, first kisses, first heartbreaks, and first flights of freedom. Thoughts of self, identity and independence color a life once only colored in coloring books, backyard swimming pools, trips to the candy store or tear-stained shoe box coffins for small beloved hamsters named Hammie. 

  
No, your beef, man, is not with us, our slap dash, rag tag impromptu impossible road trip, the one with endless miles of road bearing insights among the natural sights and blights of countryside and cityscapes of the northwest, sorely needed respite from the daily doldrums of grinding work hours and spatial deprivation you also complain about as likely to kill you. 

And here we are speaking lightly of the shame of it all, the clear cutting demoralizing the Oregon hills along the Columbia, deforestation in the Amazon rain forest and water wasted on the open expanses of thirsty crops along the Washington thoroughfare while our first born worries about being good enough to last, to make it under the pressure of intense competition and her own perceived weaknesses. 

  
Struggle coats our innards, the outside world only the mirror and consequence. 

But I caught a glimpse of wince in you yesterday, the pinched frown of devastating knowledge held in check–but not enough. Despair leaked from your downward cast lower lip and fallen eyes, a momentary slip of the heart spill. 

“You okay?”

“Yeah, it’s just Jordyn leaving.”

“I know.”

And we each look to our respective windows for escape into the landscape upon which we hurl our pain masked in observation, a costume of the fearful. Tears haunt us. Afraid to unleash the avalanche of suffocating cold loneliness threatening to smother us.

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