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Huckleberry Season

By Jean Southworth

July 2006

I begin writing this on I-84 in eastern Oregon, somewhere between Pendleton and Arlington.  Normally I dare not even read in the car, thanks to my life-long motion sickness, but this road is perhaps the straightest, flattest and most boring stretch of freeway in the state, so I thought Iíd give it a try; I want to catch and release these thoughts swirling in my head. 

I always tried to get our kids to practice their freeway driving skills here in their days of learnerís permits, but they rarely took up my offer.  Our most recent learner, Taylor, isnít along for the ride today, electing to stay home with day-camp-counseling Annie, summer-schooling Zach, and Pomeranian-obsessed Bailey. (Our dog believes the yapping twin Pomeranians in our neighborhood are actually squirrels on leashes, unfit for living.)  Jim and I are on a return journey from my familyís summer cabin in McCall, Idaho--our first trip there ever without kids.  (We did go there in 1984 when I was pregnant with Zach, but that doesnít seem to count.)  Our family is in a time of transition.  So is McCall. 

Our week at the cabin was a time of quiet delight.  Jim painted a bunch of paintings and I read a pile of books.  We hiked where we wanted and ate what we liked without regard to any teenagerís taste.  We slept late and scheduled our days around our own desires, without thought of jet-ski rentals or miniature golf.  Our small-kid McCall summers are sweet memories and Iím glad we did it exactly the way we did.  But now weíre reaping the rewards of bearing our children at relatively young ages, getting to enjoy a vacation in a more selfish manner, just us.  I loved it all before, I love it all now.  The seasons of our parental roles are changing, and Iím so glad that I get to make the moves into the next stages of life with a man I adore, this driver next to me right now wearing a frayed baseball cap and pastel-stained shorts, drinking a Diet Peach Snapple. 

The trip to McCall couldnít have come at a better time, following record-breaking, muggy heat which somewhat melted Jimís moment in the blistering sun as this yearís poster artist for the Salem Art Fair.  Jim valiantly smiled and signed posters and t-shirts for three days in a remarkable display of endurance.  In the meantime, I got scorched by the unexpected pain from someone I care about.  I hadnít thought to put on relational sun-screen from this person and suffered a burn of the heart for a couple of days.  It was good to get of the sun and out of town. 

Grandpaís cabin in the trees nurtured us both back to ourselves.  Not much ever changes at the cabin, except perhaps the installation of a new refrigerator once every fifty years.  (Iím serious.)  The town of McCall, however, continues growing into something unrecognizable.  The hamlet of my youth with no traffic lights has emerged a place where you have to plan your route ahead of time to assure you can pull out onto the highway from the Laundromat. 

Behind our cabin and across a dirt road, lakefront mansions sell for four million dollars.  Who is buying these places, anyway?  One summerhouse had professionally-made signs admonishing those passing by: ďPrivate Property!  No Picking!Ē  Iím assuming they meant the huckleberry bushes, which bloom profusely all about the lake, but Iím not sure.  I was tempted to pick something else, but Jim wouldnít let me.  Iíd never seen anything like this in McCall before, but perhaps if you spend 4.5 million on a lake house, you get a territorial view and territorial with your huckleberries. 

On our way home from McCall, we detoured into Joseph, Oregon, an artist and bronze foundry community in remote northeastern Oregon. Weíd wanted to visit for years, but our children would never have tolerated such a deviation, an ďeasy seventy-four mile off-ramp from the freeway,Ē as our bed and breakfast host described. 

We toured the town and met friendly gallery folks.  Jim was something of a hairy beast, unshaved for a week and released from his presentable ďJames-the-ArtistĒ clothing, but we figured his large Nikon camera gave him entrťe into the galleries. 

We donít know enough about bronze to fully appreciate it, but the true surprise and masterpiece, Wallowa Lake, awaited us down the highway.  We saw rustic cabins (where you can pick whatever you want), horseback rides, bumper cars, paddle and motor boats, fishing holes, swimming areas, ice cream stands, and undomesticated kids and deer.  We took a 15-minute tram ride to the top of a mountain with painless hiking trails and staggering views.  I posed on rocky cliffs near hang-glider departure points and tried to mask the look of terror in my eyes while Jim clicked away.  The modest wonderland of the Joseph area reminded me of the McCall of my childhood. 

A crazy thought suddenly occurred to meówhy donít we move the cabin to Wallowa Lake?  They moved the Unabomberís cabin all in one piece, so I know itís possible.  Iíd even be willing to leave the bathroom addition behind, great sacrifice that it is.  (Those of you who know the cabin recognize this as a joke.  The bathroom part, anyway.)

The future of the cabin isnít so funny.  My folks are getting older.  Theyíve gone from exceptionally healthy for their ages to normal for their ages, and itís getting harder for them to maintain our little cabin in the woods.  Having five siblings share in the ownership and maintenance of the place seems a burden of complications.  Our lives have changed, our kids have grown, McCall has changed.  Like it or not, life is full of seasons that come and go, sometimes in joy and sometimes in ways that sting and ache and make us want to fight back. 

Iím trying to accept the changes from spring to summer to fall with a heart of grace.  I want to embrace each season for what it is, to live fully in it, but let it go when the time comes.  My new strategy is to keep an eye for beauty down the road:  For the hidden lakes off long freeway off-ramps.  For impending days and years more as a couple than as parents.  For further journeys with this guy I agreed to travel with nearly 24 years ago. 

Like most people, I detest change, just as I grow dizzy by the increasing curviness of this freeway in the Gorge.  But Iím grateful for the gift of my amazing beastly husband, my lifetime touring partner.  Iím grateful for the promise of eternal treasures ahead with Christ; itís down the road, just out of sight, in a spot more beautiful than I can possibly imagine.  Itís a place that will never change.  How can anyone pass it by?  When my own winter arrives, I know exactly where Iím going, for Christ has already paid the enormous cost for me to reside in the loveliest of all real estate, where the huckleberries are abundant and grow freely for everyone.