Friday, August 21, 2009

The Palouse

I spent most of this week in Spokane - a town I love more every time I go. Possibly the town is basking in the reflected glow of the people I work with when I'm there. Possibly I've always been there in nice weather... Like the roads I saw in the Palouse, with signs at their starts that warned "Summer Road." I doubt I could handle the dark of an East Washington winter, but the two glowing trips I've made in the fall and now in August, have left an indelible impression of clear air, golden light, and a solid reality to the people and the place which I found hard to match anywhere else I've been. I'll write more about Spokane in another post.

On my last evening in Washington, after four days of hard travel and intense work, I was very tired. But I wanted to visit an area south of Spokane called the Palouse, a wheat growing area of rolling hills and small canyons. I called my Dearest to discuss my long made plan, but also how tired I was, and she provided the little boost I needed to go.

Just a thirty minute drive south on 195 and you leave the mountains and can see, off to the east, rolling golden hills, sweeping up onto the southern slopes of the ridge that hides the Spokane River Valley from this side. I was mesmerized by all the gold curves off in the distance. I abandonded the highway for the first real road heading east, cutting out through fields of wheat in various stages of harvest.

I've included some large shots (this one, and the one above, click to view larger), so you can view them too wide for the screen and can pan back and forth the way you must in reality. The place is too large to take in. I wanted to turn and turn to capture it all. I wanted eyes on all sides of my head so I could drink it all in at once, and SEE that I was surrounded on all sides by space and wheat and light. I could not open myself wide enough to let even a fraction of it in, though I tried for hours.

I wandered and got farther south and east into this beautiful place, mostly on dirt roads. Huge harvesters were raising clouds of dust as they slowly moved across fields that rolled up to the tall horizon. At one point I thought I was far enough off the road, taking photos, when a dull roar behind me turned out to be a harvester coming over the hill. I had to hurry and leave because it took the entire road and then some, and I was in the way. As busy as the people here are, and as hard as they work from first light to after sunset during harvest, I was sorry to delay them even twenty seconds.

The light was amazing. I had turned off the air conditioning and rolled down the windows as soon as I got off the highway. It was 90, but I wanted to feel and hear this place. I had brought water and I kept drinking... For three hours I meandered roads like Rattler Run, Spangle Road (I drove through Spangle), and many more without names. The white Malibu I was renting got thoroughly filthy from the dark dust; I grinned every time I got in and out; my clothes smelled of it; I could taste it on my tongue. The air was full of the smell of road and wheat, dry heat, late afternoon light, and the sound of grasshoppers and distant harvesting.

I called Dearest from a spot on the road where I found a wide shoulder to pull off. Green grass was growing on the slopes, and the road twisted provocatively away from me toward the northwest. Here are photos showing the road forward, and then back toward the car.

We talked for thirty minutes or so, as I walked up and down this hill, oblivious of the cloud of small flies that flew around my head, biting me. I was too enraptured by the light, and talking excitedly to my sweetheart. I only noticed the bites after I got back in the car.

I knew I had to start heading back when the sun dipped below the edge of the little valley I was in. I wandered back towards the slopes of the mountains, planning to cross the ridge in a different spot and come back into Spokane from the east. The last photo below was taken just after the sun set, from the edge of a road lined with daisies and mullein. I knelt in the soft silt so I could capture the foreground detail as well as the one long golden hill in the background, with the small, neat farm on the south side.

My post sundown wandering was done by watching the ridge on my left, and taking roads that looked likely. Elder Road looked like what I wanted, but it was closed. I passed through Rockford, and took 278 southeast, then crossed into Idaho onto Idaho route 58. Eventually I got on 195 north, because it said it went to Coeur d'Alene, and I knew that would get me to I-90 and back to Spokane. I got into Coeur d'Alene with enough light to see the lake, and then to walk the main street where all the pubs and restaurants are. I sat outside the Beacon and ate fish and chips thinking of Steve, the Kiwi on the team, who had just that afternoon nearly ordered chips forgetting that they wouldn't be fries... The fish was hot and delicious (black cod), the "chips" were OK. They weren't served with vinegar, though - tartar sauce, of course.

I was back to Spokane and in bed by 10:30. Now, back in NC, home and at my studio table, I can easily call up the sounds, sights, and taste of the Palouse, but the size and space remain beyond my grasp, and these photos are tiny fractured reminders, wondrous bits and pieces of a glorious late afternoon.


June Saville said...

What a wonderful place!
Steve, we should all leave the beaten track as often as we can ...
June in Oz

Lisa said...

Beautiful! I had to travel to Oregon for work a few years ago. The drive through the Columbia River Gorge and then up through the hills and into the high desert with views of Mt. Ranier and Mt. Saint Helens were breathtaking.

This is such lovely area. I must get back to the Pacific NW. Thank you for sharing this part of your trip with us.

Pagan Sphinx said...

Oh, the possibilities for you for paiting...hint... ;-) These are gorgeous images, Steve. You've described your experience with in your usual lyrical and painterly way.

Now I must catch up with my Sweet Tooth reading...

tammy vitale said...

I suspect Spokane is much like Maine on this coast: lovely to visit when there's light during the day - okay. I exaggerate. Love that field with all the purples. Amazing!
I'm interviewing Molly Gordon on my blog tomorrow , Thurs and Fri- anyone who comments gets a freebie and a chance at her next telesummit for free - be sure to come on by and leave a comment!
Wanted to give you a heads up.

linda said...

steve, you write so gorgeously, I felt like I was right there enjoying it all....these photos are gorgeous and the light is even more, I am not particularly fond of the area because my son went to UofO so we were up there a fair portion and the weather is atrocious and it's so dark much of the must be hitting the lightest time!! *grins*

going to post my so-called self portraits today or tomorrow...hmmm, I think, ... really they are so bad but not, except they were supposed to be "self" portraits, ugh... but fun too ;)

susan said...

You've reminded me this morning of several long road trips I've taken where the sheer magnificence of the landscape has caught my heart and sometimes made it difficult to see through tears of wonder. Thank you for posting these beautiful photographs and writing so clearly about a very private comprehension.