I was born and raised in the West. I never thought this defined me until I was an adult. Driving across country by myself for the first time, I got a little uncomfortable after I crossed into Minnesota. Things get a little less wild there, a bit more tamed. Driving home after that summer on Cape Cod, I couldn’t wait to get to South Dakota. There I could rest my eyes on open untouched nothingness: the mountains, the rocky knolls, the sage brush.
One of the things we look forward to after a school year in Germany is getting back to the West. I miss hiking up the side of a mountain to nothing more than a mountain lake. In Germany, I like running into a hut serving fondue and beer as much as the next gal, in fact I love that if I forgot to pack enough food on a hike, there are always supplies waiting for me at the top. But hiking in the West, knowing it’s just you and what you packed in your rucksack, makes for a much more exhilarating expedition.
This weekend, our friends invited us up to their hunting camp for a few nights of frolicking in the West. We packed the car with our 1972 canvas tent, various food stuffs, donned our cowboy hats and off we drove to Chesaw. This little town named after a Chinese immigrant is located in the middle of nowhere along the Washington/Canadian border. It is a turn in the road. A few houses, a country store, and a rodeo grounds nestle themselves into this tiny valley. And a few thousand feet higher on the side of the mountain was camp.
Our 4th of July started with cowboy coffee from our French Press. Then we threw a few pounds of breakfast sausages on the skillet. A dozen eggs scrambled with some cheddar, toasted the buns on the grill, and voila! Egg sandwiches. After breakfast we needed to wash up. So a short ride down to the cow trough was in order. Its spring fed, but try not to drink the water when you dunk your head.
We had a morning hike through the fields of lupine and asters. Then at High Noon we headed down the mountain for the amateur 4th of July Rodeo. Since 1942, Chesaw has been bringing in the best homegrown entertainment this side of the Okanogan River. The highlight of the rodeo was the kids trying to rope the calves. If the 8-year-old was lucky enough to get the rope around the calf’s neck, the child was then drug around the arena on his/her belly since they could not let go of the rope. The few bronco rides we were able to watch were a total fail. The bronc kicked and whinnied in the holding pen, and then when the gate opened, the horse took two steps and stopped.
When we were significantly overheated and dusty we returned to a lazy afternoon at camp. I got my Annie Oakley on and shot at my share of beer cans. Hamburgers and hot dogs were on the menu for dinner. And for our post dinner entertainment… a few colored smoke bombs and glowing black snakes. Once it was thoroughly dark we climbed over the barbed wire fence and headed down into the field to get a glimpse of the Chesaw fireworks show. In order to keep an eye on the children we draped them in glow bracelets. It was a bit like watching fireflies bouncing on the horizon as the kids jumped and hopped through the tall grass.
When it was time for bed my daughter screamed, “Mama! Look at the sky! There are so many stars. I don’t think I have ever seen so many stars in my life!” She is usually a bit dramatic, but her reaction was genuine. There really were a lot of stars up there.
What we look forward to the most about returning to the states is the West. It is wild, it is rugged, and it is full of vast emptiness. Its skies are blanketed with stars and its wind carries the song of the aspen over the meadow.
What do you miss most about “home” when you have been away for too long?