The wilderness trail, formed by buffalo and ax cut through primal land skirts creeks and rivers. It is a twisting trail overhung by trees. Kudzu is eating the hardwood forests along the road. Wrapped in grey green tentacles, tree skeletons stand as sentinels along the ridges. The lands trapped by an invader remind me of the forests in Oregon decimated by fires. Now bare sharp ridges point heavenward as if begging for attention. On the way to waterfalls that tumble over basalt, logging trails trespass through Doug fir trees. I’ve walked the Mary’s Peak paths, plucking August blackberries or, when a scuff of snow dusted the ground, searching for the perfect Christmas tree.
On a recent trip winding through Appalachian hills, we took to back roads that skirted rocky streams. Maybe it was the worn barns tilting with age or the houses clustered near the road that made me think of smoke curling from my grandparent’s chimneys. Country roads take me to places of memory. Places where dreams were spun and music filled the air.
My forefathers had cut roads west from the Shenandoah Valley through Kentucky then on to Oregon. They were searching for a place to tame, to stretch out and plant a family, a life, a hope.
Twisting dirt roads to my Hermiston grandparents’ farm brought the familiar scent of sage and dust. Tumble weeds chased our car as we turned left at a tilted sign pointing to town. Often, we’d come in the summer when dad could help on the farm and mom’s teaching schedule allowed. Grandmother’s cushiony hugs and ready smile welcomed us. It was what a family home was for me, laughter, grandfather’s teasing wink and the smell of spice cake waiting to be shared.
In the broad Willamette Valley, my mother grew up in a log cabin. My great grandfather had cut the logs, put them in place and made the original one room cabin into a haven. The pungent scent of dairy cattle or the privy on the Lebanon farm are more easily remembered than the odors emanating from Grandmother’s wood stove. Theirs was a place of making do with little, for the family had been stripped of their wealth in the wheat crash after WWI. Moving from their house in town to the farm on the muddy road above the Santiam River tried my grandmother’s soul.
Here, with only table lamps to illumine the dark wood rooms, grandmother added a sparkle of color to the beds. Covered in quilts made from grandfather’s shirts and grandmother’s aprons, the handwork now covers my grandchildren, for they are treasures of time and love.
Perhaps that is what I’m saying. The family treasures are the memories of a tender word, a larger piece of cake for teenage boys, grandfather kissing grandmother’s cheek when he came in from milking. Our family’s wealth was love, wrapped in kindness.