Written by Tamara O’Brien Ralston as a birthday gift on Jan. 15, 1998 for her father Ron O’Brien.
Dufur. It’s an apt name for a tiny fossilized relic of an eastern Oregon outpost. Main Street boasts a market, hardware store, bank, and a couple of taverns. The town's only hotel closed indefinitely for renovation, but re-opens when someone the owner knows requests a room. A room - perhaps I should have booked a room at the Balch Hotel. No, I cannot deprive my children of the tent and out-house. This will be a pioneering experience for me and my two city slickers. We will sleep on ancestral ground! Grovel in familial dirt!! Discover patrimonial roots!!! I am suddenly certain that no one will care what any of us are wearing.
Leaving San Francisco's cool fog, we travel toward 100 degrees in the shade. My parents collect us at the airport and deliver us to my sister's home. My four year-old son and eight year-old daughter are jubilant. They love their cousins with a passion akin to hero-worship. This will be the highlight of their summer. I have to admit I am warming to the idea as I help my sister commence preparations for the following day's trip' up home.'
Dawn brings a frenzy of kid-herding, car-packing, lost sneakerseeking, escaped dog-chasing excitement. My sister's suburban, affectionately called the 'Monster Truck,' appears to have swallowed the entire contents of house and garage. It sits bulging and heaving on oversized tires, begging us to stop jamming things in its rear-end. Somehow we manage to wedge five children in to crevices between camping gear, ice chests and a large slobbering dog. The monster truck jerks to life with a belching roar.
There are a few moments of hysteria at the outset. I n the seat behind me, Hannah the Labrador sits In front of an open window. As we enter the freeway, shifting airflow sprays dog slobber all over my neck and into the children’s faces. My sister calmly pilots into traffic, oblivious to the uproar. Disgusted, I shut the dog's window and attempt to de-slime everyone. I cannot help casting a wistful look back at my parents, who follow in the quiet sanctity of an air-conditioned Blazer.
The din from the back seats eventually subsides, and I begin to enjoy the ride. Leaving Portland, we follow the Columbia River east, tracing in reverse the route mapped by Lewis and Clark. Traversing the Columbia gorge I am struck by the river's artistry. For 25 million years it has relentlessly sculpted whatever time and nature have placed in its path. The result is a ruggedly beautiful, forest-rimmed canyon.
A roadside historical marker reminds me we are traveling the Oregon Trail.
"This must've been an inspiring sight to Oregon Trail pioneers after so many months on the boring plains," I comment.
"Those boring plains are just where this little wagon train is headed honey, " my sister responds, breaking into an off-key rendition of "America the Beautiful. "