It’s a place in my previous life in East Wenatchee I knew all too well. A cavernous gulley that for some mysterious reason happened to be on top of a hilltop. I don’t to this day know what geologic forces played a role in its development but suffice to say it was a magical and adventurous place for a young boy and his dog to explore.
From the moment I happened to discover this place was where Prince and I, later Heidi the dachshund, and Sammy her son, walked the entire length of the miniature canyon. It was what made the drudgery of walking the dogs more exciting and adventurous. It wasn’t a short walk either. By the time I came home on weekends, though I did walk it after school on occasion, a good portion of the day was gone.
This wasn’t really a time of innocence. After all, it was the end of the 60s And the beginning of the 70s with its own complexities that was a stark reminder that simpler times are more in the eyes of the beholder than in truth or fact. Vietnam and as a counter point the anti-war rallies, the hippy, free love, drugs and rock n roll movement, not to mention the Black movement that culminated in race riots and calls for equality sounded out across the television airwaves each night with Walter Cronkite.
I liked to believe that that out there was just it and I was in absolute freedom, away from all the complexities of adult life in general. I didn’t have to worry about my job, making ends meet and keeping a roof over my head. Instead, I had the adventure of taking Prince, Heidi and Sammy down the gulley where I pretended to explore strange new wonders.
One time I took my friends from Methow there. They didn’t see the fun of the adventure, especially Dori, Greg’s sister who thought we were most certainly lost. They took off on their own back to the house, which come to find out later, they had no idea where my house was. Ross, the younger brother of the two and I came home and the parents all asked the same question that we asked, “Where’s Greg and Dori?”
Dad, Pete and I found them a couple of blocks and a full neighborhood away, knocking on doors and asking complete strangers if they know where the Schellhammers live. They probably forgotten that Thanksgiving day over 50 years ago, but it’s still fresh in my mind.
There are more adventures to follow, more lessons learned as I continue along this deep wadi. It was a place that allowed me opportunities to think which I wasn’t really allowed to do with my parents, my teachers, and my friends. Thinking required creativity and imagination which I discovered early on was taboo for the most part. I could think but only within the confines of conformity and conservatism.
It was down in this wadi that I became more attuned with nature, long before I was exposed to Thoreau or Emerson. I was a romantic in the strictest sense, but I never told anyone about that, fearing that they would forbid me from ever venturing down there again.
It wasn’t a woodland or even an idyllic paradise in any stretch of the imagination. It was mostly desert grass, whose seeds stuck to my socks, sagebrush and what I thought were cattails but I’m sure there was another name for it, that to this day I’m not familiar with.
I kept it a secret until one day Cathy, my sister wanted to come with me and take Prince for a walk. It was then that I allowed her to see my secret place and tell her my own beliefs and what I wanted in my ideal world We walked and talked about stuff that a twelve-year-old and his seven-year old sister could only understand. After we left the gulley, we found a road that continued north that I had never dared take before.
Cathy gave me a careful, if not frightened expression as I led her out from the gulley and slowly up this small hill. At the top was a graveyard from the old days, whose grave stones gave out birth and death dates from the 1800s. The most recent was 1927 to 1943. It was a white head stone which I later learned was reserved for those who died in war for our country. There are others like it but long ago, going back to Civil War and World War One.
We were awed by the whole experience as we saw stones of enfant children not even a year old buried next to siblings and parents who passed much later.
There are many lessons one learns from just taking a walk on a road less traveled or down a winding trail that leads into a gulch that no one pays much attention to. I didn’t learn about myself from reading a book, I learned about myself walking my dogs with my friends and my sister away from the concerns out there that we cannot control.