On the Way Home

At two o’clock Wednesday afternoon I decided that instead of spending another night in Malheur at a motel I would start heading toward home, stopping in the Columbia Gorge on the way, with vague intentions of heading out to the ocean to catch the Spring shorebirds migration which was just beginning. Since I wasn’t in any particular rush, I decided to drive home a new way and ended up going through John Day.

Even though I wanted to reach the Gorge during daylight, I found myself stopping by the road several times to take pictures of the surrounding cliffs.

 John Day cliffs

I would have loved to get much closer to these green cliffs,

Green Cliffs

but the area was private and threatened a $10,000 fine to trespassers, more than I was willing to pay for a close-up shot.

These kind of ridges


are fairly common in the West, but they still remind me of all those Westerns I loved as a kid. It’s easyfor me to imagine a tribe of Indians lying in wait at the top to ambush John Wayne’s small cavalry unit.

I found the geology of this area so interesting that I went online after I got home and discovered The Painted Hills Unit of the John Day Fossil Bed National Monument, an area I plan on exploring on my next trip to eastern Oregon.

Planned or not, I ended up right across the river from Goldendale, the area where my grandfather grew up and where I spent a year of my childhood. I never visit that area without stopping at Sam Hill’s Stonehenge,

Sam Hill’s Stonehenge

a memorial to local men who died during World War I.

I first visited the site when I was five years old and have always associated it with the rock and sod houses found nearby even though I long ago realized that the rock houses were built much earlier. Fake or not, it’s an integral part of mysterious and mystical childhood memories.

As I drove down the Columbia Gorge I was surprised to see California poppies growing on the cliffs. I would have loved to stop and get some shots, but life is already too short to stop on that twisting, narrow road. Instead, I pulled over at an outlook a quarter-mile down the road and took the shot of these poppies.


At first the poppies —and the 75° temperature — made me think that summer is nearly upon us, and I’m surely ready for it this year.

Later, though, more melancholy thoughts overcame me, and I recalled parts of “In Flanders Fields” written by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae:

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Although the association of poppies and the graves of WWI soldiers came to me, I had to look the poem up on the internet to recall the whole thing. Though not a personal favorite, it continues to reside in my subconscious, resonating with events in my life.

How beautifully
fragile life seems against
ancient cliffs.