The little ’96 Honda
purring down the road
through the deep green gorge of Oregon
glancing at kite surfers
who flip over white caps
as the windmill dotted cliffs look down.
through sun scrubbed hills
and irrigated wheat patches
with only cell towers for sights
through a close scrape
with a pinchy trucker
as the road narrowed
right in front of a Sheriff,
thank you officer eyes peeled
through the mountain ups and downs
from the sparkly blue-blue of Coeur d’Alene
and long neck of Idaho
into the bumpy half of Montana
through the perfect mix of trees and hills
and elk filled fields,
past darling slick-roofed log houses
like Lincoln log creations of childhood.
We share the road with ambling campers,
pesky big rigs,
a sunburned convertible,
a candle-apple red restored Ford Bronco,
and revved yellow muscle car
mixed in amongst the generic SUVs.
out of the mountains
into practically cattleless cattle country
with its trains of weathered fences
and the road like high-speed taffy
stretched out over the rolling whoops,
rollin’, rollin’, rollin’
keep that Honda movin’
the majestic mesas appear
like scenery from a Western hoobog
expecting Louis L’Amour’s Chick Bowdrie to come
riding across the plain
with his wide brimmed hat pulled down
low against the sun.
The largest mesa,
like giant’s toes
keep your eyes on the road Dawn
and your nose in the wind
for Montana is the land of big sky
and big smells riding on the coming rain.
Smell the pungent sage, the sweet wild flowers
and the vinegar fresh rain.
A two day state
Montana turns from cattle to grain.
The land flattens out
studded with hay bails
and round grain bins
and the occasional flash of antelope behind.
The landscape is like Scottish highlands,
treeless green with crumbling rock escarpments
hanging on the verge of a steppe climate.
Barns for Dawn,
weathered and leaning,
stranded in the vastness.
A one-legged wooden grain elevator
and a ghost town stubbornly
rooted in the rocky soil.
After hours upon hours
of driving through beef country,
a hunk of meat is in order.
Podunk Jordon, Montana appears
as if in a mirage.
The Hell Creek good ol’ boy Bar
is the choice of two places for a steak
(or any food for that matter).
The cattle brands embossed on the wall,
quart sized frosty beers,
and a 14 ounce perfectly grilled steak,
puts us in cowpoke heaven.
With over-full stomachs
and smiles as wide as Montana itself,
the rest of this sage brushed panorama
slides by easily.
North Dakota greets us
with landscape art of color and sculpture
and funny place names.
We drive past the town of
Home on the Range
where the Painted Canyon
and Camel Hump Lake
The land fairly pulses
even though Buffalo gap
surely hasn’t seen a buffalo
for a hundert years.
Abruptly following the Painted Canyon
the history and art
give way to the green yawn
of flatland agriculture
and a smattering of oil pumping rigs
that cause a twinge of guilt for
the carbon the little Honda
is tooting into the choking atmosphere.
It is not only death
that is the long nap,
it is the Dakotas.
You can hear the land
snoring as it lays down grass-belly-up
as far as the eye can see
which in truth is comfort to me,
it feels like home.
It’s the way home for sure
when Salem Sue comes into view.
Standing under this 12,000 pound Holstein
is a tradition we cannot pass up
despite the too hot day.
North Dakota seamlessly
and sneakily becomes Minnesota.
As we drive north,
the beauty and coolness
of the thickening trees is oh so calming.
In the land of 10,000 lakes,
we stop to peer at the greatest of all,
like a small ocean
hiding the Edmond Fitzgerald
in its cold, deep bowels.
This largest of the Great Lakes bridges
Minnesota with Wisconsin on its south shore
and oh Canada on its north of course.
It is not just the stolen Gnome
making the trip with us
who is excited to cross over the bridge into Wisconsin,
the promise of our home state
rallies these wearied travelers.
Heading toward middle state,
which to Wisconsinites might also be middle earth,
resort towns give way to
sleepy small towns whose names
spring back from formative years’ memory.
Giving up a fruitless quest for
one of those memories
in the form of Patty’s Pies,
we opt for mediocre food
and sinful ice cream malts
in Spooner, Wi.
Welcome home to the land of fatty food,
meat and fries, and potluck dessert bars
all made more palatable to a now ex-Oregonian
by the friendly, hardworking, trustworthy,
family-oriented people of the Cheese State.
These wonderful people,
the trees and the seasons
are what has brought me back
across the long trek home.
This is home.