Self-portrait in side view mirror

Self-portrait in side view mirror

I would like to embody an attitude of adventuresome-ness.  With the right attitude, I think that anyone can become an explorer of the world.  For me, adventures at home and farther afield feed many other parts of my being.  They give me opportunities to make photographs, provide subjects for future paintings, and fill my heart and soul.

As with most people I know, life is very busy right now.  I simply do not have enough time to spend on all the things that I enjoy.  But these days I am determined to work some short road trips into my life.  Things seem to have conspired to make this a possibility.  I am still working a three-quarter of full-time position, and I have to work every other weekend, but every two weeks I also get four days off in a row.  I recently bought a new car which makes driving pure pleasure, and I am so grateful to have economical and dependable wheels.  I am now old enough for my very own “senior” National Parks pass, a lifetime gateway to our natural world.  And I have a great companion in my husband — he is easygoing and does not mind frequent stops for photographing — and he helps with driving.  So I am well set just now to take advantage of the privilege of adventuresome road trips.

We traveled along this scenic byway to the Painted Hills of Oregon.

We traveled along this scenic byway to the Painted Hills of Oregon.

I can think of a long list of relatively short-distance road trips that I would like to make.  For example, I would like to explore and document in photos the five National Scenic Byways and 22 State Scenic Byways in my home state of Washington.  I would like to travel around the Selkirk Loop in Canada, just north of Washington State.  The list can grow even longer when I consider the many places outside the state.

During my most recent stint of days off work, my husband and I drove to the Painted Hills of Oregon.  It was very much a journey of discovery that took us to a part of Oregon that neither of us had ever driven before.  In fact, nobody I knew has ever been there.

I had seen a few photos of the Painted Hills, and knew they would make great photographs, especially in the low morning and evening light.  But the weather forecast was for clouds, showers, and possibly even some thunderstorms.  It would be a long drive (over 7 hours according to Mapquest) and I didn’t want to feel like the trip was a bust if I couldn’t photograph.  But in the end, I decided that I would never do anything if I waited for the whims of the weather — and we decided to go.

I’m so glad we did.

No matter that it took us 15 hours (15 hours!!!) to arrive at our destination with stops for fishing (George), photographing (me), construction delays (it took 1 hour to go 5 miles in the middle of the night on I-5 due to construction — aargh), and a shortcut on the map that turned out not to be “short” with the slow driving on a curving, gravel road, but which was picturesque nonetheless.

We made the strategic decision to start our road trip at 10 o’clock at night because 1) my husband tends to stay up late anyway, 2) I thought it was no loss to travel the familiar (and boring because we have done it so frequently) I-5 drive down to Portland and I-84 stretch along the Columbia River in the dark of night, and 3) I could sleep while George drove and take over when he got tired, and vice versa.  In spite of little restful sleep, my body seemed to come awake during the daylight hours — and the lightening of the skies began around 4 a.m. in these days leading up to the summer solstice.  So by the time the sun started to rise in the morning, we were on a quiet stretch of U.S. Hwy. 97 in Oregon.  And I was waking up to some awesome landscape.

Sunrise off of US Hwy 97 in Oregon

Sunrise off of US Hwy 97 in Oregon

The day’s sights just kept on giving.  I will need the weekend to upload my photos, edit and caption them, and select the best to share with you in next week’s blog posts.  I hope you stay tuned.  The Painted Hills had not been on my radar for all the decades I have lived in the Pacific Northwest, and my expectations were exceeded.  They are located in the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, and once again I felt privileged to have access to an incredible place set aside by the national government for all to enjoy.

With the longer-than-expected driving time, we missed the low morning light on the Painted Hills.  And our road trip did include rain, but we were lucky to visit the Painted Hills before the rain hit.  The skies were filled with dramatic clouds and thankfully we avoided the intense mid-day light that washes out the colors of the landscape.  It seemed fitting that we were blessed with the huge arch of a rainbow over the Columbia River on our way home.  Glorious sunrise.  A beauty-filled day.  Color-rich rainbow at day’s end.  As close to perfection as we could have wished.

Driving home on Oregon Hwy 26

Driving home on Oregon Hwy 26

Rainbow over the Columbia River

Rainbow over the Columbia River

The old farmhouse where I grew up

The old farmhouse where I grew up

“I live here in the realm of predictability.  Each day goes by, a mirror of the one before, a rough draft of the one to come.  The passing hours bring variations in the sky’s coloration, the comings and goings of the birds, and a thousand almost imperceptible things.”
— Sylvain Tesson, The Consolations of the Forest:  Alone in a Cabin on the Siberian Taiga, translated from the French by Linda Coverdale

My father is rooted to the land where he has lived for over 90 years.  The Minnesota farm was his childhood home, and he has observed the seasons passing predictably year after year.  And now in old age, the call of travel and adventure no longer appeals.  From my perspective, life on the farm seems slow and unchanging, each day a “rough draft of the one to come.”

Still, there is a lot of richness in being so rooted.  As Natalie Goldberg says in The True Secret of Writing:  Connecting Life with Language, “Much can be done by doing little — with regard.”

Sylvain Tesson, quoted in the opening to this post, deliberately experimented with finding his inner life by removing himself to a remote, rustic cabin in Siberia.  He found that “Staying put brought me what I could no longer find on any journey.”  Writer Jim Harrison, writes about these same feelings in Brown Dog:  “Come to think of it, the main good thing out here snowbound in this cabin is that nothing is happening . . . I’ve got this personal feeling things are not supposed to be happening to people all of the time.  At least I’m not designed for it.”

If we live to extreme old age, our bodies will inevitably wear out, slowing us down and making us stay put.  I got a taste of this during the two weeks I stayed with my Dad.  The challenge for all of us, regardless of age, is to stay observant to the things that come across our range of view, and to find the beauty in these still images.

Here is a window to my Dad’s world:

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The area around Minneapolis-St. Paul from the airplane window -- flat!

Every time I return to Minnesota in the nation’s heartland, I am struck anew by its beauty.  The long flat vistas, the rolling plains, farms and fields are so different from the mountainous Pacific Northwest where I live.

The rural landscape in Minnesota is dotted with these iconic structures:  old barns and silos, small town water towers, and large grain storage elevators.  Here are some photos from my road trips to Alexandria in northern Minnesota and Rochester in southern Minnesota:

Foggy country road along my sister's farm near Alexandria, MN

Foggy morning near I-94 "up north"

Grain storage elevators

I saw more of these elevators than ever before on this trip to Minnesota.

Water tower on the horizon beyond the fields

Old silos -- most are unused because few farmers still raise livestock

Lovely old barn and silos near Belle Plaine, MN

Interesting patchwork colors on this barn and house

More and more old barns, disused, are falling into ruin.

Barn and silo along Hwy 52

Watch out for tractors on the roads! The large, new machinery overlaps several lanes of highway.