Leaving Home by Ness Mountain
Eastern Oregon Breakfast, Ralph Nader, and the New Politics of Reconciliation
I don't expect to get the full sympathy of my vegetarian readers, but you have to picture it: twenty-five miles through the mountains on foot, we'd been living on rice, beans, and dried fruit. You miss real food after a while.
Each year my son and I take a long walk through the Eagle Cap wilderness in the Wallawa Mountains. We cross meadows flowering with plants whose names I've never known-I'm from the low country. I give them names of my own: Mountain Glory, Goddess Plant, King Philip's Daisies. The strong medicinal smell of the mountain mint leaves me feeling washed clean.
This year, for the first time, we made it to Green Lake, where snowmelt forms a lake at 7,000 feet. Three cowboy types sat in front of a big lean-to tent; their horses wandered in the tall, swampy grass. They made us welcome, showed us the best place for our tent.
The ringleader was Randy, a grizzled, bow-legged horseman. The other men were his son, Randy Jr., who works at the sawmill, and Bruce, a logger. Randy Sr. spoke easily of the years he has enjoyed the wilderness, riding, fishing and hunting. A proud man, but nothing insecure, he accepted us for ourselves. He was impressed with distance we'd come on foot with heavy packs. "Wouldn't want to walk that far without horses," he said laconically, and I managed to keep my grin to myself. He'll turn seventy in a few months.
He has the kind of serenity and sense of being a part of nature that are steotypically associated with Native Americans. Just sitting on the rock, looking out across the water, he's completely at peace. Living in the city, one could easily forget what a person looks like when they feel that way.
The next morning just before dawn, we were woken by the voice of Randy, Jr: "You fellas want some breakfast?"
Vegetarians may want to skip the next paragraph.
Blinking sleepily in the pearly morning, we found Randy Sr. flipping hotcakes. Our mouths watered involuntarily, and the friendly banter of the country people washed over us as we stared at the pork chops laid out on the rock. Were those for us? The chops looked like cracked, oversized hockey pucks, thick as bibles, crowned with massive, curly strips of bacon. To our deprived taste buds, the pancakes, margarine, Aunt Jemima's, and meat were a moment of purest bliss, a taste of nirvana.
We talked about work a bit. Bruce's logging business had failed due to competition from larger companies. Randy Jr. needed to be back at the mill in the morning. Randy Sr. just laughed: retired, he had just returned from a hunting trip to Idaho with his sister, 67.
I wondered about the politics they might subscribe to. Didn't want to ask, didn't want to be ungrateful. Who would they be voting for in November? What are their opinions on logging issues? Whatever I might think of Republicans in general, the idea of these men as anything but friends is insane to me. I felt a deep but helpless need for a solution-to be able to share something of substance beyond a wonderful meal and a conversation.
As we went to leave, Randy called after us, "Tell the folks at home you had an Eastern Oregon breakfast!"
That was before I saw Ralph Nader at Memorial Coliseum. He had a lot of extremely sensible things to say, but what stuck in my mind was his solution to the problems of the logging industry. Right now, we spend an unwarranted amount of money on subsidies for logging companies. Redirect that money to put the same people to work restoring the health of our battered forests. I can't help but wonder what the Randies would think of that idea. They love the forest. Working to restore it, I suppose, might sound good to them. If I'd heard Ralph Nader before I talked to Randy, I might have had the courage to talk politics with them.
If you have seatbelts in your car, thank Ralph Nader, and VOTE NADER.
Ness Mountain is a counselor and urban shaman living in Portland. Your comments on Leaving Home are welcome: respond to Alternatives or to Ness by eMail.