Buck and Sharon have several horses, dogs, and the occasional herd of elk and deer that cleverly find their way into the barn to partake of the horse feed. Buck has made a comfortable home away from any city noise and in what I think is a lovely place. Ken and I are so excited for the opportunity to travel and to be able to visit them while we both are able and healthy.
Considering our destination of Alaska, it is also a benefit to visit with Buck to talk about his life in Alaska. Several decades ago, Buck was a teacher and coach in Galena, Alaska. I know from my trip to Alaska in 1999, that Buck’s life there was a much different experience than it will be now or was on my first trip. The advances in digital technology alone would be amazing, much less the options of travel and clothing technology. I don’t mean to imply he was there during the gold rush days, he did after all, fly with his teams to play other schools. In fact, that is one of the reasons he left the state, so much traveling by plane and being so far from other family. Galena, like many small towns in Alaska, is not connected to any other part of Alaska by a paved road. It is on the Yukon River, north of Anchorage, north of Denali National Park, north of most civilization, yet short of the Arctic Circle. We ask him about darkness, snow, caribou. He’s a rather matter-of-fact guy. His answers are basic, its not dark as much as you think and he stayed busy with school; you just get used to the snow and cold; and yes, there is a lot of hunting. As much as he likes to live in place that is a long arms reach away from a big city, he does like to be able to drive to a store, or to the mountains, or to his brother’s. (below, descending to Pendleton off the Blue Mountains)
Ken and I drive Interstate 84 from La Grande to Pendleton. This stretch of 84 from Baker City to Pendleton is part of the historic Oregon Wagon Trail and the Blue Mountain Forest State Scenic Corridor. There is one rest stop in the mountain section where Uncle Andy and I took our lunch one day. There I learned this scenic corridor is home to intermittent stands of stately old-growth ponderosa pine, lodgepole pine, western larch, and Engelmann spruce among others. An uplifting thought considering how the settlers thought everything was put here for their taking. My sister and I stopped along the road at a few national monuments where the wagon ruts are still visible in the ground today. Why our contemporaries are oblivious to the many “marks” we leave on the earth confound me when these from over 100 years ago are plainly visible. Again, I could digress. 84 cuts through the Blue Mountains before dropping into the flat lands of Pendleton, location of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, and acres and acres of farm land. The Blue Mountains this month glow golden with deep basaltic rock underneath. To me, this color combination hints at a deep purple-blue. The highest pass we cross between La Grande and Pendleton is just above 4,000 feet. There is a light snow on top today, but dry air once we drop into the city. It seems an easy cross in our 200+ horse power car, we will traverse it twice in one day. A wagon train would be relieved that it is their last mountain crossing for most who settled what is now the Hermiston Valley or any other spot along the Columbia River.
Pendleton is home to the Pendleton Woolen Mills, not much is actually made here anymore but the historic mill is open for business and tours. A world famous rodeo, the Pendleton Round-Up is held here late each summer. I can only imagine how the city swells at that time of year. Cousin Mike grew up here, coached baseball for years, and married his lovely wife here. They live in the house that he pretty much grew up in. I had a lot of fun visiting with Uncle Andy the hot summer we stayed. Mike’s wife Carol collects lots of neat things and one I really enjoyed was costume jewelry. We talked a lot about thrift store shopping and ebay selling. This year, we again compared re-sale stories, neither of us works much with ebay anymore, too many large businesses and so many reproductions available now. Otherwise, we had a great visit with Mike and Carol, they both have a great sense of humor, are hugely warmhearted, friendly and just plain good folks.