The smaller part of Oregon is the Pacific Northwest: towering firs, pristine rivers, misty forests, and the vast ocean. The rest is the West: Wide open vistas, big sky, sagebrush and juniper where left alone, golden fields where not.
I’ve missed the West. I did not get there in 2014.
On summer’s first day, I awakened in the West. Bend is not exactly the Old West of John Wayne movie lore, but the location is right.
Where are the cowboys?
Cowboys still work ranches and rodeos. I do not see them hanging out in the saloons of Bend. Rich old White people plus athletic and / or hip young people (slightly less White) patronize booze establishments. Who herds cattle or performs other agricultural work in the area? Whoever they are, they probably work too hard for too little money to spend it in the city center of sagebrush and juniper, and houses, and malls.
We returned to Bend Thursday to see faux cowboy, Willie Nelson preceded by Alison Krause and Union Station.
The grassy Les Schwab Amphitheater is a wonderful place to sit on a hot summer night. The sound is good, and it feels intimate compared to big amphitheaters, such as Maryhill Winery. We joined friends M and E. As I gazed up at the pink jet trails just after sunset, I thought that life is pretty good, even though Willie’s act was . . . he’s doing great for age 82 with his classic old songs and a ludicrous new one . . .”Roll me up and smoke me, when I die.” Let me guess his state of sobriety when he wrote that lyric . . . . These days, Willie is more Jerry Garcia than outlaw cowboy.
Later at M and E’s home, coyotes serenated us as we sat in the hot tub about 15 feet from acres and acres of sagebrush platted for another development. No beans or fire at this campsite.
This morning I saddled into my 166 horsepower carriage, turned from the hitching post, and blasted toward the horizon. The drive from Bend to The Dalles is big sky country, with long, undulating vistas that stretch hundreds of miles. Some vistas soothe like the Pacific. Others thrill with ancient geologic violence.
Still other times, I could almost see men on horseback, rounding up the cattle, and the movies’ Indians looking down from the tops of the buttes. At The Dalles damn, I imagined real Native Americans gathered by the thousands, netting huge salmon, producing pemmican, gambling and living the life that sustained them for thousands of years.
I know it’s all different. Nevertheless, The West still inspires me with beauty, freedom, isolation, seemingly endless possibilities and wonder.