Cows graze in the weak afternoon sun of December in the Owyhee desert.

Cows graze in the weak afternoon sun of December in the Owyhee desert.

Is it beautiful, or is it ugly? I guess it depends on who is asked.

Is it beautiful, or is it ugly? I guess it depends on who is asked.

Tara and I managed to squish in a quick trip to Boise and still be home for Christmas. We had remarkably good December weather and driving through the passes between Pendleton and Baker City was safe and quick.

First stop was my brother and sister-in law’s house. My two nephews are at an age where a visitor enjoys a few minutes of available parent when they can get them. Last time I visited, A suggested, “Why don’t you two come stay the night sometime, and we will have a chance to talk after the boys go to bed?” It was a great idea, so when my brother E suggested we stay the night Sunday, I immediately accepted.

For those of you who have received my annual Christmas letter, you will have read that I also caught a show in Boise. I’ll post photos from the show later. My original intent was to bring A and E along and have hours of grown up time and show them my favourite musician. They couldn’t find a babysitter on that holiday weekend, so A sent E off with us because she is a selfless sweetheart.  I loved having all that time with my brother, and look forward to the day when I can spend the same quality time with my sister-in-law. Everyone had to get up early in the morning for work and daycare, so we had only a few minutes of evening and morning time. That will teach me to visit on Sunday night.

Anyway, for all my high hopes, I simply did not get enough time with them and the boys. I will have to go back! Tara and I soaked up their beautiful home and hospitality, and got the full story on Rocky, the shelf elf, who comes to live in the house every December so he can report to Santa on the boys’ activity. Each morning, Rocky shows up in a new place in the house, and my nephews run around and find what kind of mischief was wrought in the night. The morning we woke up there, Rocky had found a photo of my nephews and drew mustaches and glasses on them.

Warm rays of the sun strike the surface of the Snake River, creating a frosty winter mist.

Warm rays of the sun strike the surface of the Snake River, creating a frosty winter mist.

Morning light touches the river.

Morning light touches the river.

Mountains blush in the morning light.

Mountains blush at sunrise.

A duck lifts off from the Snake River.

An American Coot lifts off from the Snake River.

We crossed the Treasure Valley out to my Pa’s house on the Snake River. This is not my preferred country. My Pa just loves the Owyhee desert, but I find it barren and bereft. Out there for too long, I begin to take stock of assets for survival purposes…just in case. Still, as the photos show, I am an artist, and I cannot help but find extraordinary beauty around me no matter where I stand.

My Pa fed us some fabulous meals and we had the chance to tell stories and catch up. (Don’t you agree that it’s wonderful to visit a good cook?) It’s been a really hard year for my dad and it felt good for me to reconnect. I worry about him and it’s hard to be so far away sometimes. I hope he found the same comfort from our time there.

Dove waits for sunrise.

Dove waits for the warmth of the day.

We visited with all the kitties, one by one, as they gained the courage to get a little closer to us. I teased my dad, “I’ve heard of crazy old cat ladies, but you’re the first crazy old cat man I’ve known.” He does have a soft spot for cats, and a million acres for them to roam – albeit dangerous acres with raptors nearby. Tara and I watched a movie in the theatre downstairs. I believe it’s obligatory: if your host has a theatre, a movie must be watched.

Pa talked about the recent catastrophe of the outdoor pool bursting and exploding down the hillside, washing out retaining walls and the road down to the river. The timing is dreadful, because he was getting ready to sell the house. Now he has to sit and wait until insurance settlements are worked out. He reminded me of the bright side however, pointing out that the pool burst on the side away from the house, and went toward the river. Thus 15,000 gallons of water did not even approach the house, much less tear at the foundation the way it wrecked the retaining wall.

It’s our very last Christmas as Mom and high-schooler; who knows what the future will bring? It was important to us to be in our own home with our own beautiful tree and our own sweet Racecar kitty for Christmas. So we said goodbye to Grandpa/Pa and made the 8-hour drive home to Portland. On the way we passed this fabulously decrepit place beside I-84. I slowed down for Tara, who took all the following shots.

An abandoned factory of some kind, in an absolutely remote stretch of highway.

An abandoned factory of some kind, in an absolutely remote part of eastern Oregon.

How can something so wretched be so picturesque?

How can something so wretched be so picturesque?

A closer look shows what a cobbled-together quilt of structures it is.

A closer look shows what a cobbled-together quilt of structures it is.

Every level of scrutiny reveals more fascinating layers.

Every level of scrutiny reveals more fascinating layers.

Does the second floor of the hut truly jut away like that?

Does the second floor of the hut truly jut away like that?

Empty walls always cry out for graffiti.

Empty walls always cry out for graffiti.

Sentinels

Sentinels

I love that there are decorative touches to the smoke stacks.

I love that there are decorative touches to the smoke stacks.

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