Thursday, September 4, 2014

From Weippe

Weippe, Idaho.  September 4, 1920.

My father always made a point of being from Weippe.   “I was born in Weippe, Idaho, and consequently spent a great deal of my life trying to escape the fact.” 

Unlike the explorers Lewis and Clark, who in September 1805 found the Weippe Prairie a godsend after their starving struggle though the Bitterroot Mountains, and were welcomed by the Nez Perce to that fertile place rich with blue flowers, my father wanted nothing more than to get out, away.

And so he did—as far as Tarawa, Saipan, and Nagasaki; the bright lights of New York (I’ve just been looking through his stack of 1940s playbills and ballet & opera programs); the steaming sulphur-smelly pools of Yellowstone; and (whimsically) Santa Fe, where he was happy to settle and stay.  To Paris once—the day after I came to California for college.  To the Oregon Coast often, and then the Kona Coast, where he happily dogpaddled around and around the salt-water pool.

And that last fall, after his last birthday, around the San Juan Islands and up to a deep Canadian fjord with oysters at its lip, where I can still see him riding to shore with picnic supplies in a little Zodiac, wearing a bright orange life vest.  (Which of course in the end did no good at all.)

A couple of years before, he and my mother had taken another small inland cruise following the western journeys of Lewis and Clark.  But he never went back to Weippe even to visit, never felt it tugging him “home.”  And I came at Lewis and Clark from the opposite end—visited Monticello one September and was charmed by the maps of their expeditions that hung there; fell under the spell of Thomas Jefferson, philosopher and vegetable gardener, the president who’d studied languages and architecture and stars, who set the explorers off across the country into the unknown. 

Happy birthday to my dear father, twenty years after his own exploring ceased.  I love this picture of him in 1933, at thirteen, with his younger sister and brother.

They all look so wholly themselves already, their clothes and bearing and expressions telling without any hesitation what they would become.


. Camas flowers at Weippe Prairie, Idaho. NPS  (Camas flowers grow well there, and attracted native gatherers of the camas roots)
. Boyd Cochrell, Anita Belle Cochrell, Dean Cochrell  

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