It started with an immense glowing-orange building on the horizon…which turned out to be the moon. From that moment, it was clear that nothing about this particular trip was going to be ordinary. The morning after the moon, I was reluctant to leave my friends in Portland, so by the time I drove up the Columbia Gorge and crossed into the Palouse, it was sunset.
Land rolls as you come into the Palouse. I’d crest a hill and the sun would come back up—and set again as I went into the dip. I saw sunsets until finally I stopped the car so it could get good and done. Then the highway curved to the north, the hills got taller, and suddenly I was in the middle of abstract art: huge sweeps of black earth, tan wheat, and umber stubble, curving unpredictably on hills close around me in the dusk. There was nothing for the window to be but open. Sounds of quail and hawk carried on the hot wheat-scented breeze.
Since then, I’ve returned to the Palouse as often as I could go, and not nearly often enough. I’ve learned to know people there, and to see changes. Children I’ve met are growing up. Businesses have come and gone. A good dog walked the hot field roads with us for hours one summer and was gone the next—she’d somehow come too close to a combine during harvest.
Sometimes I’ve gone to the Palouse with David, who has a gift for eliciting cougar stories: cougar come into yards, walk the streets at night. (I love the old usage whereby “cougar” and “bear” stand for both singular and plural; it conveys a certain respect we might try applying to our words for human neighbors.) Sometimes I’ve been able to fit a Palouse visit into a Northwest performing schedule. Sometimes, I go for sheer love.
In the Palouse, I let my skin bake to a dry bread-brown—I know it’s not supposed to be good for me, but it evaporates the waterlog (a backlog of water, sort of) I have from my Seattle years, and makes me happy.
Alison Meyer’s beautiful photos convey the broad canvas and the exquisite detail of the Palouse. www.alisonmeyerphotography.com
Columbia County, Evening where the wheat gets taller and the names get shorter Dusty, Dixie, Rose Gulch the world listens to the sound of wheat sibilant abundance after the cut, brown deer dot the stubble a hawk finds mice quail chuckle through in the hot hush, harvesters climb down from the air-controlled cab of the combine the earth claims them with a rush of sweat winter wheat, hard wheat, barley prices change daily in the Co-op window on Main Street where bulky green machines are the traffic, and pickups have dogs in the bed under the sleek tall wall of the grain elevator, a camp like a cheap motel for the workers who load the heavy harvest and rest feet up behind the broken shade on the rolling edge of the hills of the world, the sky grows deeper the land goes from dry to gold along the rim, the boldest stroke of lipstick on a mouth made of wheat © 2005 Andrea Hoag