A little girls heart begins to beat faster as the family rig slows down, turning onto a long dusty driveway, scattered over in gravel. The lone tree stands to the left, sharing a small amount of shade from the scorching heat. Up over the hill, down another, around the bend you roll.
Cattle guards rattled as you traveled over them. Keeping the cattle from wandering too far from home.
A little girl smiled to herself, for she knew that soon her journey would be over. Soon, her feet would come to rest on the same ground they touched so very often. Soon she would be where she felt she belonged.
The place where her heart grew.
The journey would begin several hours away. Mommy packed suitcases of clothing, and coolers of food. Daddy gathered sleeping little blonde heads into his arms, strapping them safely into their seats in the rig. Tired eyes looked about. The sun was barely peeking over the horizon, the air still filled with the morning chill.
After a few stops, they would finally be headed down that long road for that special place. That spot tucked into the Eastern Oregon mountains, where the Ponderosa Pines stood proud and tall. If you placed your nose between the cracking bark, a sweet scent would greet you. A scent similar to that of butterscotch candy. God's perfume.
A little girl, with her little freckled cheek pressed against the glass, watched the world swiftly go by. The landscape changing before her eyes. Sharp hills were to her right. The rocks brown and rugged, breaking the blue sky above.
To her left was a river. The River. A river so large, the little girl couldn't comprehend how it was a river. For to her, it was an ocean. Larger than life. With crashing waves and swirling water, it stretched for as far as she could see.
"Who can be the first to spot a mountain goat?"
The game kept the little ones busy, as their eyes scanned the flashing rocky cliffs. Searching desperately for those white goats.
"I see one! Two! Three! I see five!"
Soon the rocky cliffs would be replaced by rows and rows of trees. Tree farms. Perfectly lined trees, spaced exactly the same distance apart. The little girl grew weary of watching those trees, and her little head would nod off to sleep, for just a moment.
After while, Mommy would open up the zipped cooler, and pull out snacks. Beef jerky, candy, pepperoni sticks. Dried apples, pears, and cans of V8.
"Are we there yet? How much longer?"
"A long time still. Just relax for a bit longer, kiddo."
For a little girl, six hours is almost as long as an eternity. But soon Daddy would exit the freeway, gradually heading for those hills in the distance.
Curves and deep ravines replaced the yellow prairie. Tree's kissed the sky. A small river traveled along side you. An old time hymn sang through the stereo as the little girl watched the ripples go by.
"Yes, we'll gather at the river. The beautiful, the beautiful river. Gather with the saints at the river that flows by the throne of God."
Then, at last, the driveway. Or, what was called the driveway. Sitting higher in her seat, the little girl's eyes scanned the fields, searching for the familiar "antelope" grazing in the distance. Sometimes Daddy had to stop in the road as a herd of cattle slowly strolled down the lane.
Slowly, ever so slowly, they made they way down that gravel road. Leaving the hills behind and into the safety of the trees.
Before long, a gap between those trees was seen.
"There it is!"
Oh the excitement. Oh the joy! The sun beaming off that metal roof, reflecting back as if to say, "Hello. Welcome home."
Up the hill they'd roll, ever so slowly. Windows rolled down, and little arms waving in excitement. Grandma, Grandpa, Aunts, and Uncles gather on the front porch of that cabin in the woods, arms responding to those across the yard.
Finally. The long journey had ended.
Doors were opened and little ones scampered out into the world. The little girl with freckles on her nose was tired from sitting for so long. Her legs were cramped and weak. When her feet reached the ground, a cloud of dust exploded from below, stinging her eyes and tickling her nose. This dust was like no other. It was the softest dust you would ever feel. Or, so the little girl thought. It was gray in color, and felt like powdered sugar between your toes.
The kitchen door squeaked open, the metal chain clanging against the wood. There stood Grandma, with aunts around her legs. Smiles upon their faces.
In years to come, that little girl would grow up. Her freckles would fade, but not her memories. Her days on that special plot of land would come to an end. Yet, still the memories she made would carry her through the years. They would shape her to who she was. Teach her things. Show her to appreciate the little things. That memories are something precious.
Memories of crawling into her sleeping bag, wearing her clothes from that day. Jeans rough and her sweatshirt bulky. She'd lay safely behind tented walls, upon a ground of matted grass and sunflower leaves.
In the morning her eyes would open. The world still. The sun began to peak from beyond the horizon, casting her rays upon the tent above her. The little girl peaked her nose out from the covers.
The sun had not yet warmed the chilly night air. Birds chirped and chipmunks rustled. She'd lay awake for a time, waiting, anxiously, for Mommy and Daddy to awaken. When they finally did, Daddy would begin to make breakfast. Sometimes they would get to eat out of a mini cereal box. Oh the treat! Or, Daddy would fry up bacon, potatoes, and eggs, the aroma filling the air around.
Memories of four-wheeler rides through the hills for hours and hours. Grandpa leading the way, his straw hat safely placed upon his head. The rumble of the four-wheeler engines echoing across the land. Deer bounding from their hiding places. Chipmunks scampering across the trail.
The tall pine trees made you feel safe, and yet that little girl sometimes wondered just when a cougar may bound out in front of them. One never did, but still her eyes darted back and forth, searching.
Memories of long moments spent in the river.
The John Day River.
How familiar that name is to her ears. It twisted and gurgled through the land, hiding creatures in her dark waters. She could feel the slippery rocks beneath her feet, and the cold water splashing up her legs. The little girl did not stray too far away from the shore, for fear of being pulled down stream. Long grasses hung over the edge of the bank, where the rattlesnakes were said to hide.
Dragonflies buzzed by, and fish swam between her feet.
The little girl remembered one summer in her life where a drought visited them. Rain did not fall and the sun shone hot and high. It beat upon her back and made her cheeks grow red. The river was not its usual refreshing self. It was warm and low, moving slowly as if she too were tired from the heat. Fish floated past as she tried to cool down in that water, their life gone out of them.
The little girl felt sorry for the fish, and wondered where the rain was. Soon clouds would roll into the sky and cool the parched earth below. Soon. All you need is patience.
Memories of dusty trails and dirty faces. Laughter floating through the air. Long walks down the driveway and to the barn. Rides on "ole Betsy" the rope swing. How the little girls stomach would tickle when Grandma pushed her high into the air. Her blonde waves flowing behind her. Blue eyes sparkling with delight.
Sawdust covered the floor. It stuck to your shoes and clothes, smelling fresh and clean.
The little side room was filled with treasures inside that barn. An old potbelly stove stood in the center, echoing whispers from years ago. Glass bottles, bowls, and plates lined the shelves.
Sawdust and water made lovely ingredients and the little girl baked everything from stew to cakes with just two simple ingredients and a dash of imagination.
That little girl is grown now and those days are forever in the past. But she'll never forget those days. The days of her childhood. The place in the mountains that impacted her life. That helped mold her. Shape her.
The place where her heart grew.
I know this to be true, for that little girl was me.
I'll never forget my days on the Ranch. Of the smells and sounds that take me back through the years. Remind me of those precious times. Give me a glimpse of the days I once lived.
Campfires crackling, the smell of smoke filling the air.
Cold hotdogs to satisfy my grumbling stomach.
Hobo pies on the fire.
Four-wheeler rides whipping my hair and cooling my cheeks.
Of placing my legs onto the handle bars as I drove the four-wheeler, to keep from being burned by the hot engine.
The smell of gasoline.
Birds chirping with the morning sunshine.
The stillness that filled the land so early in the day. The silence. The peace.
Watermelon juice on my chin.
The old outhouse. How I feared opening that door! Afraid to find a rattlesnake sleeping inside. Thankfully, not once did I ever have to experience such an ordeal.
Cattle drives and cowboys rolling past the yard.
Of wildflowers. Oh the colors our God has created!
Oh, the laughter.
Forever I'll remember those days in the mountains. Forever they'll be in my heart. I can't bring them back, and I suppose I wouldn't want to. I want to remember the good times. Forget the bad. Focus on my blessings. Cherish each second.
From those mountains I learned the love of enjoying the simple things.
Cherishing moments spent with loved ones.
That you don't need anything more but clean air, sunshine, and love.
I shall miss that place. But I shall never forget.