Eastern Washington

40501026_341212819785571_3961651286883517682_nWe were only back for a week.  Our time on vacation had stoked my longings for a little more elbow room to roam.  I turned my attention toward Eastern Washington.  I had not spent much time there, but it was hotter in the summer, colder in the winter, and a lot roomier than the area of Western Washington where we lived.

I wasn’t completely unfamiliar with the western part of the state.  Land and home prices there were a fraction of what they are in the areas we have lived on the west side.  I had sent my wife link after link to so sites with houses and land near towns with names like, Tonasket, Wakunda, Republic and Kettle Falls.  I told her I would love to at least have some vacation land there.  Her reply was always an encouraging, “Look me up when you get back.”

Before our vacation to Colorado and Utah, we had begun to explore more of Washington than we had before.  It had been nearly 9 years since we had done any real adventuring.  We started by going to the Olympic Peninsula.  I had lived in Washington nearly 30 years and had never been to the rain forest.  My wife grew up here and she hadn’t either.  So we went.  It was great.  It was sort of the primer to our next trip. The long one.

After a day or two of resting up from our vacation in Colorado, I suggested that we continue to explore Washington by going to Winthrop and Republic.  These were both well known as old western type towns, set in the wide open of Eastern Washington along Hwy 20.  Hwy 20 was well known as a lovely drive through the high Cascades, and was also known for being closed half the year due to snowfall. Instead of her usually dismissal of all things eastern, my lovely bride agreed with an almost disturbing amount of enthusiasm.  What was going on here? Such a turn around from one known for being quite consistent can chill the blood.

Whether it was her unsuspected survival of the desert heat in Utah and Colorado, or something else, Angie was as interested in our trip east as I was. We both had the spirit of adventure coursing through our veins.  We also had this shared sense that we were still in the process of following some Divine cookie crumbs that were leading to somewhere we hadn’t even imagined.

The following weekend we headed east on Hwy 20 from our rental home on Whidbey Island.  We stopped in the town of Newhalem, just at the western base of the Cascade Mountain Range.  They had a small park with an old steam train engine in it.  It was amazing and refreshing that this engine was open to the public to climb on, in, and over.  All the levers and valves still moved and the bell could still be rung from the cab.  Rather than allowing the fear of liability to keep people away, the local government let the warmth of personal responsibility free people to touch and experience this rare artifact of a bygone age up close and personal.  The boys loved it.

The drive over the Cascades was breathtaking.  There were lakes and waterfalls everywhere.  One could easily see why the road was closed for much of the year.  There were steep sides and rock avalanches all along the roadway.  At one point there was a pull out on the side of the road littered with rocks and a few small boulders that had recently fallen from the hillside above the road.

The road wound down the steep mountain range into a valley much like the ones I had grown up in.  There was a bit of hazy smoke from wildfires in the Canadian wilderness, and a large firefighter camp on the side of the road.  The road ran along a swiftly flowing crystal clear river and into the town of Winthrop.  Winthrop is what everyone sees in their mind when they think of Old West.  The sidewalks were wooden and most of the buildings constructed back in the mid 1800s.  We had coffee and the boys had their lunch sitting on stools made from real horseback saddles.  Old west style.

We left Winthrop and went to the town of Omak, where we rented a motel room.  In Omak was an amazing western store. It was like a farm and ranch, tractor supply and sporting goods store all rolled into one giant supermarket of cowboy coolness. I am not a store person, or a shopper, but even I enjoyed being in there.

We drove over to Republic.  We only had a few hours to spend before we needed to head back west.  It was odd. It wasn’t as old westey as Winthrop, but it was definitely from the same mold.  The entire downtown was 1890s.  While hot and desert like the surrounding hills and up to the edge of town was thick with Ponderosa pines.  The highway went right through the center of town. It was wide with plenty of parking on each side.  Being Sunday, it was nearly deserted, which was a big change from the west side where everything is expected to be available 24 X 7.

Republic in the year 2018 reminded me of a town I had lived in growing up in the 1960s, called Rifle Colorado.  Rifle is now much bigger and quite modernized.  Republic, not so much.  Oddly I felt like I was coming home.  Everyone we met was friendly, welcoming, and very hospitable.

When we stopped to eat, Angie was using her phone and some local publications to see what house and land prices were like in the area.  I was excited to see her looking with great interest and joy at the seemingly affordable land prices.  While I still had a bit of a longing to own some land, I had felt the imperative for the last couple of years to buy a home.  While not quite ready to be put out to pasture, I am getting a little long in the tooth to be renting.  Social Security and my small pension would never be enough as a renter, but as home owners we could live quite comfortably if I got to the place where I couldn’t work.

We had been turned down in all of our recent attempts to get financing to buy a home.  I really didn’t want he to get her hopes up, but I was so very pleased that I wouldn’t be alone if one day I was able to acquire land east of the Cascades. It would take a miracle to be able to get a home, but it was a miracle that my Norwegian descended wife actually liked it here, 85 degrees and all.

Failure Isn’t

When I was 15 I rode a Schwinn Stingray bike.  The BMX bikes were starting to make an appearance, but the handsome Stingray with the banana seat and the ape hanger handle bars was still stylish and cool.  In the presence of 6 of my local guys who hung out together, I placed a 3/4 inch piece of 4X8 plywood on an upturned 55 gallon drum in the gravel alley behind our house.  I rode my bike to the end of the alley and began to ride at full speed toward the makeshift ramp.  I was pressed hard down into my seat as I hit the ramp, then lifted by the feeling of zero gravity as my bike and I fairly flew through the air.  It felt like slow motion as I looked around me at the rooftops on either side of the alley and down upon my admiring friends, earthbound below.  Out of the corner of my eye I also noticed the front tire of my trusty Schwinn as it slowly separated from the forks, like the booster stage of a rocket, and began to fall earthward.schwinn

I learned several lessons from that spectacular failure.  One of course was that I was not Evil Knievel. The other had a great deal to do with Sir Isaac Newton and his writings.  There were also lessons about the limitations of the human body.  One lesson was later on learned as I sat under a tree with the beautiful brunette that lived two houses down and retold the glory of my break from the surely bonds of earth.  Chicks dig that sort of thing.  There was also that final lesson when my dad found the black tire prints on his newly purchased piece of plywood. While chicks dig it, dad not so much!

So if failure isn’t really failure then I am truly a success story above all success stories.

I gave my heart to Jesus as a young adult.  That was one of the few decisions that worked out for me.  Jesus has always been the same Jesus he told me he would be even when I went through the ups and downs of living success and failures.  Through it all I have found Jesus in each one of life’s failures.  Good things have come from the things I didn’t accomplish.  Valuable lessons have been learned in pain.  I don’t ride a Stingray any more, but I am still prone to being the human crash test dummy.  I can’t help it. Its the way i am wired.

It isn’t unusual that Jesus would pick graduates of the school of hard knocks.  I think of several off the top of my head.  Peter is one notable alumni of said school.  The woman who wept on Jesus’ feet and dried them with her hair. Oh boy, what a colossal failure she had been!  Most of Jesus’ crew seemed to be made up of failures who weren’t, except maybe Judas who managed to do so anyway.

I messed up. Pain taught me. Jesus takes it all and changes it around.  Presto chango and I have something to contribute.  I’ll show you my scars.  Got any of your own?

The Satisfaction of Words

dictionay3The other day I read a blog by author, Donald Miller.  I’ve been a fan of Miller for several years.  I like his candor. He says things that others have been to preoccupied to say.  He says them in a way that I wish I had.  I like it when i read something or hear something that I identify with so much that I find myself saying, “I wish I would have said that!”

From time to time I am brought nearly to my knees by the power of a turn of a phrase. It may be profound to none other than myself, but I love it when the power of it is like taking a sip from a fire hydrant. Last week Mr. Miller penned one such. He wrote that he was working in the French Quarter of New Orleans. That had my attention.  I like Nola!  He said, “the words are good here”.  Jealous!  That blog was only two sentences long; short and sweet and yet the conclusion was an amazing thought, “the words are good here”. It’s like I bent over to take a sip and the power almost blew my lips off! Refreshing.

I couldn’t leave that phrase just laying there.  I took it with me for the rest of the day where it nestled comfy and secure in a prominent place in my mind.  That day turned into two and then a week. Today it is still perched high in a corner of my mind for nearly two weeks, “the words are good here”!  I told my wife about it. Her response was polite.  I told my 18 year old son.  He didn’t get it.  I suppose if I had to explain he wouldn’t have understood anyway.

For a long time and even more so lately, there is nothing that I do that is quite so fulfilling, so soul deep satisfying, as writing.  When the words are good and the flow cascades through the verdant canopy of imagination, it settles down a mist of intoxication that cannot be found in any bottle or substance.  It is addictive.  It is also allusive.  You don’t always know when you are going to encounter the two.  Although the space may have something to do with it, like the French Quarter seemingly being the inspiration for Donald, I think that it may have more to do with the space between the ears.  That is the tricky place.  If the whole process were just about geography then that would make finding it simple and replicable.  That would also make finding good reads simple and replicable.  Finding something that is nebulous, misty and without substance, not so much. That takes work, timing, and a whole lot of luck!

I find that my best writing flows from a full heart. The place and the time, the living ability to apply effort to the process are important, but nothing flows from an empty reservoir.  I may find the kind of space that inspired Hemingway, but unless I bring an equally inspiring space within my head any product will be academic, a mere exercise.

I reluctantly admit that I am one of those people who have the misfortune and the blessing of not having had a gate valve installed between the brain and the mouth.  The pipe is wide open so whatever the brain manufactures simply obeys gravity and rolls down hill until it falls out of my mouth. I could stand on my head, perhaps slowing the torrent, but that would give me a headache.  I just give into Newton’s discovery and go with it.  Open my mouth and out it pours.  In the case of writing I just keep my lips tightly pressed together and let gravity once again do its thing, then viola! It finds its way to my fingers. The rest, as they say, is history.

The trick to this whole process is in the fullness of the reservoir, in my case the heart.  My heart can be filled with many things.  It can be filled with earthly things, even the baser things that should not be there.   The Bible says that out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.  Sometimes stuff gets in there that I don’t want to come out.  The trick is to keep those things out or at least in rarity. The best way I’ve found to do that is to keep the space filled up with the kind of good stuff that I want to have come out.  I stay close to things that inspire me. I want life giving things to form in my heart and in my mind so that when I open my mouth or turn on my computer those are the things that flow out.  I don’t ignore the other stuff, that would be to deny the reality of humanity.  Sometimes I try to write about those as well,  but I put them in perspective with good stuff that is there.

My middle son loves to snowboard.  It usually begins in September. Not the snowboarding season, that doesn’t start until November, but the conversations about it.  At first it is mixed with other conversations of other interests, but gradually those are edged out and the entire content is within the context of mountains, snow, and boards, unless of course it is boards first, followed by snow and mountains.  He dons his boots and board and practices jumping on the carpet while the autumn sun is still warm.  This particular subject, of course is interchangeable with cars and motors which are not confined to any particular season of the year.  All things car are all things with which he is also fascinated as well and will talk about them with anyone willing to listen.  His heart  is full of these things and they naturally pour out in conversation.

To some my son’s verbal fixation on what his heart is full of may be a bit overwhelming.  I understand that, but I also see what it does for him.  Talking about the things he enjoys energizes him.  They empower his imagination and enhance the sense of savor at the tastiness of experience when he finally finds himself on the mountain or behind the wheel.

I spend most of my waking hours mentally pursuing the things that I associate with Jesus.  I do that because I am crazy in love with Jesus.  Even when I was beyond cruddy and sin-caked to the umpteenth degree, He still loved me, called me, cleaned me and began the process of rebuilding me.  I had friends who said they were such.  I have had family who were supposed to be such.  No one stayed and invested when things were their darkest except Jesus.  I owe Him all.  I can’t repay even one lick of it.  So I don’t try to repay Him. I simply try to let my life bring joy to Him as He watches and even as He interacts with me.

I talk. I write.  It might be overwhelming to some, but both to me are as important as breathing in and breathing out.  I have a wealth of experience because I have tried, failed, floundered and was rescued over and over throughout my journeys through this life.  Within the story, each and every chapter, there was Jesus, forming, shaping, letting me go and rescuing me from myself.  That is why I write, mostly about life and living, being and doing. That is why most of the time Jesus finds his way into my writing.  It is because upon further examination I find Jesus in most of my story.  The words satisfy me with a deep down yawn and stretch sort of satisfaction when I see the story, my story, and find that it was also His story as well.