A river runs through it (my life, that is)

Laramie Peak - from a shorter distance than my childhood vantage

Laramie Peak – from a shorter distance
than my childhood vantage

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On a bookshelf in my apartment, next to the two histories of our family my dad wrote and published, are three books (1).

Yesterday I was nostalgic—no, feeling a tad sorry for myself because here at 68 when I should be seeing the world with my husband and joying in the company of my grandchildren, I am alone with three cats. My mild nostalgia/self-pity is not a big deal. But I saw the books and my mind wandered to Dad’s work when he was my age.

At that time my parents lived in Sacramento. He was semi-retired, doing interesting work as an interim pastor sent to various places to work with churches without pastors. One of those places was Spokane, WA. My then partner and I visited my parents, and the four of us made a trip to Glacier National Park. A delicious outing.

For some time before he died (until he could not physically or mentally maintain his concentration—he was, after all, 97), Dad was writing a memoir tracing his life’s journey along the Oregon Trail.

He was born in Kansas City, MO, and lived (after five years in Wyoming) in Kearney, Scottsbluff, and Omaha, NE, all on the Platte River—and the Oregon Trail. Eventually he moved to California, that home in Sacramento—the ultimate goal of many pioneers who traveled the Oregon Trail.

I am, as I said, in a nostalgic mood (or something related to that), so I will do a bit of river-remembrance of my own. And in the process, some Oregon Trail thinking which will be of interest to my siblings and about two other people.

My brother and I were born in Douglas, WY, on the North Platte River. Douglas is a small town nestled at the foot of Laramie Peak.

Later, we lived for two years in Kearney, NE, where my sister was born. The city is on the Platte River which is formed by the confluence of the North Platte and South Platte Rivers about 100 miles west of there. From Kearney, we moved to Scottsbluff, NE, which is (once again) on the North Platte River. “Nebraska,” by the way, is an Anglicized version of the name French explorers gave the river as a transliteration of the Omaha Indian name meaning “Flat Water.” Folks in Western Nebraska say the river is “a mile wide and an inch deep.”

A mile wide and an inch deep

A mile wide and an inch deep

Scotts Bluff, a siltstone outcropping (once under the water of the great inland sea) which has remained intact because limestone deposits harder than the sandstone kept the soil beneath them from eroding away, looms over the city Scottsbluff. From the top of the Bluff, Laramie Peak, 120 miles west, is visible on a clear day. That as I was growing up I could look west and see the (to a kid, faraway) place where I was born gave me a kind of comfort. Two promontories, both beside the Platte River.

We used to say ruts on the south side of the Bluff were made a hundred years before by wagons on the Oregon Trail. I doubt that, but I’ve never looked into it seriously.

We moved from Scottsbluff to Omaha, about 10 miles north of the confluence of the Platte and the Missouri (the city may have expanded that far south by now, for all I know).

The romance of the river ends there for me. I boarded a Greyhound bus in the fall of 1963 and headed to Redlands, CA, to go to college, and except for the following summer never lived in Nebraska or by the Platte River again. I was, however, in the state that was the destination of those pioneers on the Oregon Trail. I’ve lived all over the country since then, but I did complete the “westward ho!” as my father did.

Somewhere I have pictures of Laramie Peak faintly visible on the horizon from the top of Scotts Bluff. I took them before I had digital photography (the last in 2001). I, of course, can’t find such pictures on the Internet because people look east where the towns are when they are on top of the Bluff.

If you read my blog regularly (thank you) you know that you have to tolerate a great deal of sappy sentimentality and a lot of self-revelation no one should make in public. Yesterday I saw my psychiatrist whose job is to help my neurologist keep my meds in balance. [Note to myself: write someday about the “entitlement” that makes me eligible for this incredible care that I can’t afford. Hmmm. ACA anyone?]

At any rate, Dr. Bret. She always schedules me at the end of the day so we can talk for an hour instead of the 15 minutes my insurance (without co-pay) pays for. She understands all of my “issues” better than anyone else. Depression.

The chasm I cannot cross

The chasm I cannot cross

She said, “I think you have trouble finding people to be kind to you.” What? And then, “You know, you are fragile.” What? Ho, ho, ho! you’re saying to yourself if you know anything about me and co-dependency and addiction and all of those ways in which I’m screwed up.

I do have trouble finding people to be with who are kind to me. I’ll write about that the day after I write about my “entitlement.”

But fragile? I’m the bull in the china closet most of the time (not to be confused with other closets). I do not have a delicate nature. And I do not have one of those fine, sensitive “artist’s” minds.

From the time I was six years old until I was fifteen, I was regularly in a place (not figuratively, literally) from which I could see, staring over a chasm of 120 miles, the place where I was born. The chasm was (is) the earth. I don’t have pretty language for this. But I have known my whole life that I’m caught in that space, that I can see the place from which I came. But I can’t get there from here.

Yet.

________________ (1)

•             Franzwa, Greory M. The Oregon Trail Revisited, 4th Edition. Tucson, AZ: Patrice Press, 1988.
•             Haines, Aubrey L. Historic Sites along the Oregon Trail. Tucson, AZ: The Patrice Press, 1981. (Foreword by Russell E. Dickenson, Director, National Park Service, United States Department of the Interior.)
•             Mattes, Merrill J. The Great Platte River Road, Second Edition. Lincoln, NE: Nebraska State Historical Society Publications, 1979.

Memories that serve us well

The Platte River at Kearney, NE

The Platte River at Kearney, NE

Today is my sister’s 63rd birthday. I can’t say I remember the day she was born, but I have many memories of the time leading up to her birth and the momentous events in our family with her as one of us in the two or three years following.

The day our parents told my brother and me we were going to have a baby brother or sister (in that misty past we could of not, of course, know which), he and I were piled on our parents’ bed early in the morning. A wondrous and mysterious time.  And then the months of waiting—my first awareness of the passage of time. In the middle of that time we moved from Worland, WY, to Kearney, NE, it seemed to me in order for the baby to be born there.

When she was born, we already had a girl’s name chosen. I don’t remember what name we had chosen if the baby was a boy, but we knew that a sister would be named Bonnie after our next-door neighbor in Worland (perhaps my brother’s true first love), Bonnie Bailey. The Baileys were our best friends. They had a cabin at Meadowlark Lake up in the Big Horn Mountains they let us use so Dad could fish—of course before Bonnie was born. But she did see Meadowlark Lake at least once when our family went there on vacation when she was five or six years old.  I don’t know for how much of their lives our parents kept in touch with Bonnie Bailey’s parents. I think it was one of those longtime friendships that gave stability to our parents’ lives.

Meadowlark Lake reality in memory

Meadowlark Lake
reality in memory

Memories. Funny things, they. I have not seen Meadowlark Lake for perhaps 60 years, yet I know what it looks like. When I googled “images,” I knew immediately which were Meadowlark and which were some other Wyoming mountain lake erroneously labeled. Memories. How can I know that?

I’m not going to travel down the path of “Kids today don’t have the same wonderful experiences we had—they are too enmeshed in virtual reality to understand real reality.” I could. I have done so before. However, I wonder—I have no way of knowing, so even my wondering may be missing the mark. Do families today have time together doing nothing as we did? I remember distinctly walking by the water at the edge of Meadowlark Lake and simply whiling away the time. And having fish for dinner, caught and cleaned by my father and prepared by my mother. The cabin was simple. Plain. Not very comfortable, as I recall. And I was not comfortable. I did not like camping. I am not and never was the “outdoors man” type.  And we squabbled. However. . .

My sister is a cancer survivor. She is not finished with the ordeal. I don’t know how she or any other cancer survivor does it. I have a hip injury that has been a pain in my ass for three months now. The pain depresses me and makes me even grouchier than normal. I don’t know what I would do if I had a significantly debilitating condition.

Here comes my usual leap of logic, the one that I’d tell my students to avoid, as I say here often.

I have written before in greater detail than I intend to here about my experience of (shall I go all the way and say it?) the ineffable, that which I cannot explain and you could not understand if I did. The few times I have ever felt at one with that which I cannot explain were in some way connected to being (usually alone, but not always) in some beautiful place away from the noise of the city.

Our parents, Bonnie’s, and our older brother’s, and mine, made sure we had time when we were kids to do nothing. To notice. To simply be in the world. Especially in the natural world. I don’t want to make this seem idyllic or rapturous or blessed with any other “spiritual” condition. We were not a family living together in lofty awareness of anything.

But tucked away in the backs of our minds are pictures of beauty, are experiences of simply being. Being close to the world as it is without the layers of stuff we humans construct to keep us all chugging along together. My sister’s late husband was dedicated to helping others make that direct connection. And I’m pretty sure having experienced that direct connection is at least part of the explanation for my sister’s ability to go on in the face of odds that would have defeated me long ago.

Or, perhaps, that connection will serve me well someday, too.

Looking east from Worland, Wyoming

Looking east from Worland, Wyoming