Volume I : Chapter II
The first few days were utilitarian, driving as fast as we could out of the pacific northwest to get to warmer, less familiar territory. We had one planned stop - neither of us had ever been to Crater Lake. A little inland from the coast, this place is stunning. All the lookouts we had access to allowed us to see the whole thing all at once, it was surreal. Drastic mountain edges cutting up to form the looking glass lake. No boats, no wakes, just still waters and absolute silence.
We couldn’t find a place to cut down to swim with the car and trailer attached so we decided to get some food and find a spot to camp for the night. We were still in high season so we had to drive out of the park to find a place to sleep. Sparsely populated, we drove 40 miles until we saw any sign of life, or food.
Prospect, Oregon was where we stopped, home to only a few hundred people and not much else. No grocery store, no campsite, just a worn down old motel and a bar & trophy room. The bar was perfect; cabin like with huge walls of stacked logs and taxidermied game all the way to the ceiling. Some weathered old men in the corner on the slots; a few vacant pool tables and a handful of people all huddled around the bar. We tried to get something to eat but the kitchen was closed so we got the closest thing to a salad on the menu, a bloody mary. When a town is this small, and there’s only one bar, the barkeep may as well be the Mayor. We told her what we were up to, asked if we were safe to park in the area for the night, she suggested some camp sites etc.
From the corner of the bar, a greying biker named Mike piped up to say that he had a safe place for us just around the corner. He said it was beautiful, a vacant lot right next to the river with someone named Wendy living next door. He said she would watch over us. Wendy, you see, was the “most badass bitch in town” and no one messed with her. She had more guns than she had kids and she had twelve of her own, and some grandbabies too. We wanted to meet Wendy.
Sorry Mom, Dad if you are reading this, I should know better. We left the bar and followed our new, sort of terrifying friend into the woods; he knew a short cut after all. In the pitch-dark brush, led by a stranger we met in a bar 20 minutes prior, we started to realize how stupid we were being. I like to think that people are good and kind and if you are good in kind in turn, the world will reciprocate with the people it puts in your path. This rule has proved be right 98% of the time. After a few short minutes, with Jill holding her penknife under her sweater, we emerged exactly where he said we would.
It was a vacant lot next to a beautiful creek with a bridge overtop, the perfect spot for our trailer flanked by Wendy’s house on the other side. Her front yard was littered with discarded furniture, some ATV’s and a couple of unlocked cars. There was only a faint bulb over the door that served only to light up the “Do Not Enter” sign. This place was unreal and I couldn’t wait to meet Wendy. Mike had explained on the walk that she lived alone save the kids, killed all her own food, didn’t rely on any man and was so respected and feared in their community that she didn’t have to lock any of her doors. The anticipation was killing me; I already drew a picture in my mind of what she would look like. Tough as nails. We knocked and what came to the door was wildly confusing. A small, sleepy-eyed blonde opened up. She looked about 25, beautiful and delicate. This was not the larger than life, gun toting, elk killing, justice serving “bad ass bitch” I was expecting. Behind Wendy was her boy Levi, about 16, playing Xbox. Mike explained our situation and we were welcomed immediately and without question. Her home spoke volumes about her life, fishing rods stacked with rifles in the corner, broken up weed on the table and boys clothes strayed about the furniture and floor, framed family photos. We learned that Wendy was in fact a grandmother at 40 and although she had two kids and grandkids of her own, she had taken in strays over the years. She estimated she had stepped in for about twelve kids in total. She said she couldn’t stand when people didn’t own up to their responsibilities and could not see a child go uncared for. Levi was 16, he had been living with Wendy for a few years and naturally referred to her as mom. The last time he saw his own mother she was too messed up to recognize him and just asked him if he wanted to get high together. He hadn’t gone back.
Wendy was warm and unphased by us, we moved the trailer into the lot and convinced her to come back to the bar with us. The night was picking up and people were funneling in. This bar felt like a someones living room, everyone knew everyone, we snuck right into this family reunion and no one seemed to mind. We learned that the town was divided in half; the weeders and the tweakers. We had met the good half and were being treated well; this was life in Prospect. We spent a lot of time speaking to one friend of theirs in particular; a vet who had completed four tours overseas and ended up getting blown up by an IED. He spoke at length about his treatment upon his return, the medical procedures, the financial hardships, losing some of his fellow vets to suicide, the five-year wait for a pay out and his young son. He explained that his legs had been wired so that he could walk again. He had two battery packs in his abdomen that he charged nightly like we would charge our phones. He insisted we poked them to prove he wasn’t lying and they were as real as he was. The things he was telling us were dark but there was not an ounce of sadness somehow. When he spoke of his son there was no baggage on him; he showed us photos of them hunting, fishing, walking to school together. He explained that the reason he doesn’t dwell on all that’s happened to him is his son. His son is the only one in his whole class that gets to say his dad was a professional sniper who was injured protecting his country and that’s good enough for him. He was his son's hero.
We ended up drinking all night with Mike, Wendy and all our new friends. Mike was a well-worn man, wrinkled skin, kind eyes and hard hands. He had an unwavering respect for Wendy and hardships of his own. He had been in and out of prison for reasons I didn’t care to know although we did learn at one point he was ordained a minister. He worked odd jobs around town and had a crop to supplement his income. He looked out for us like daughters but had no family of his own. Ernie showed up to give us a ride back to Mike’s place so that he could grab elk lasagna to bring to Wendy’s. Stacked on top of Jill in the cab of that truck we ended up off-roading our way back home all while balancing lasagna in my arms. The night was coming to a close, Mike insisted we were to get up early and fish the creek with him. He promised afterwards we would pick blueberries at his secret spot and he’d show us what Prospect had to offer in the light. Safely parked and sufficiently drunk our perfect night had come to an end.
...To Be Continued