Roots and Branches: ‘Snarled yarn’ travels

WHALE ROCK: “As the sea rushed in, a series of holes worn from eons of tides forced water out the top of the whale’s head, a perfect water spout.”

Photo by Maija Yasui
WHALE ROCK: “As the sea rushed in, a series of holes worn from eons of tides forced water out the top of the whale’s head, a perfect water spout.”

I have been a road warrior these last few weeks, crisscrossing Oregon in pursuit of our granddaughter’s softball fields and meeting with tribal and county purveyors of prevention. These two very diverse activities have taken me along roads familiar and others less traveled. To date the map app on my cell phone has not led me astray, for which I am eternally grateful. The directions have been clear and exceptionally accurate, assuaging my fear of being sent on some desolate mountain road, wherein my gas tank runs dry and my cell phone signal has lost its ummmph. There I sit, waiting endlessly for someone to notice I am missing and send out a search party

I have been to Warm Springs Reservation, Prineville (twice), Bend, Madras (twice), Grand Ronde (twice), Pendleton (twice), Umatilla Indian Reservation, Hermiston (twice), La Grande, Baker City, The Dalles (twice), Portland (three times), Woodburn (twice), Tualatin, Sherwood, Newburg, Brookings, Port Orford, Gold Beach, and Eugene. Over the next two weeks I will visit Burns Paiute Reservation, Portland, Oregon City, Prineville, Salem, Bend and Washougal.


Unfortunately, the trips have not taken as logical a path as one would hope, synchronizing visits to the east, then west and finally south. Coordinating these site visits was next to impossible given some very busy schedules. If I were to highlight the route on an Oregon map, it would look like a snarled ball of yarn traveling on monotonously straight or dangerously curved highways, across mountains and deserts, on smoothly paved freeways or side roads pocked with pot holes.

I have encountered turkeys, deer, elk, antelope, rabbits, fox, long horned sheep and goats scurrying along the roadways and watched eagles, osprey, ravens, and sea gulls soar overhead. Seeing several cranes posed gracefully in a wetland lends an aura of peace to my journey, unlike the queasiness evoked by a turkey vulture ominously circling my car at a lonely rest stop. Somehow less disgusting was the scattered array of roadkill baking on the asphalt, primarily skunks, raccoon and possum.

I have been treated to a variety of weather patterns: humidly warm, icy cold, foggy, rainy, windy, calm, with a sprinkling of sleet, hail and snow. The worst storm cell I have ever encountered was on a return trip from a softball game in Pendleton. Winds were reported at a steady 85 miles per hour for a 20-minute period. Our TOYO truck was blown from side to side, its right mirror rattling relentlessly, seeming to applaud the sheer force of the storm while simultaneously whistling in the face of danger. The windshield was pelted with golf ball sized globules of rain, futilely chased by once efficient windshield wipers, their sweeping capacity completely compromised. The pounding on the roof made conversation impossible, although there was little conversation in the cab since my husband was trying to get some shut eye, riding shotgun through the maelstrom. Tumbleweeds didn’t tumble, they tore across the roadway, flying high overhead then bouncing to earth, finally coming to rest against a faraway fence. Dust blackened the sky for a few frightening minutes, turning the flood of rain on the windshield into a muddy mess for miles. Nature’s fury inspired shock and awe, it sheer power shaking every nut and bolt in the pickup.

As we moved west and the storm bowled over us on its race to the east, the sky gradually lightened. We were treated to a magnificent sunset as we came down the grade into Arlington. Fiery orange clouds painted the sky with a neon intensity, the color so bright it made your eyes burn, reminiscent of the news reporters’ description of lava and gases bursting from the Kilauea volcano. It was as if we were given a reprieve of sorts, first immersed in the dark side of nature, then watching its incredible beauty intensify into an unbelievable brilliance.


Perhaps the storm felt more powerful than it actually was because I had just returned from a trip to the southern Oregon Coast where I was treated to several warm, sunny, wonderfully windless days. That trip was awe-inspiring in a much friendlier fashion. The redwoods were massive, their age lined trunks telling time honored tales of perseverance in the face of man and nature. The sun kissed beaches covered bare feet in a warm beige blanket sand, toasting toes and nose alike. The sea was a deep turquoise, the breakers a snowy white beard against the sand, the sky a crystal clear cerulean blue.

As I traveled up the coast, a panoramic view greeted this road worn traveler at every twist and turn on Highway 101. Beauty and bladder forced several turnoffs where row after row of breakers crested monoliths stretched for miles on end. My favorite was Whale Rock at Ten Mile Beach, where a cluster of wind and sea weathered rocks formed an enormous whale viewed from the precipice above. As the sea rushed in, a series of holes worn from eons of tides forced water out the top of the whale’s head, a perfect water spout. Just a scientific note: the whale’s spout is not sea water as one might assume, but warm air forced from its lungs when it comes to the surface, more like the steam from a tea pot than a water spout. These trips have helped me focus on the amazingly beautiful people and places I am honored to visit. There is so much ugliness in the world it is uplifting to relax and enjoy the stunning show that nature provides.

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