To reach the arid, desert landscape of eastern Oregon, we first passed through the Ochoco National Forest. This stretch of highway is blanketed by dense pine trees and rimrock formations that are visible from the road. The twists and turns through various canyons made me forget I was on a highway. After an hour on the road, we reached Mitchell, another small town along the highway full of Old West history and considered the gateway to the Painted Hills. Mineral deposits make these hills, one of three parts of the John Day Fossil Bed National Monument, spectacularly striped with vivid colors. Up the road a few more miles, the Picture Gorge is a great place to stop and take photos along the John Day River.
Naturally, six years later, I found my nostalgic self yearning to go back and experience eastern Oregon on my own terms, all grown up. I packed a bottle of wine plus cheese and crackers in a basket then drove East on Highway 26, through the Ochoco Forest and on to Mitchell, home of approximately 200 people and one black bear named Henry. I’ve heard he’s still there, living in his deluxe cage with manmade cave, but visitors are no longer allowed inside to visit and feed him apples. Guess I was one of the lucky ones.
I bid farewell to Henry and Hugh then continued East, until I reached Dayville Antiques and Hardware. It hadn’t changed a bit in six years: the same dilapidated building stood cluttered with dusty glass dishes and old furniture inside, frozen in time. I was greeted with a warm hello from my friend Barbara. She remembered me as if we had met yesterday. I bought a small musical jewelry box from her, a memento I still have today.
Two months after my visit, Barbara passed away. I dedicate this article to her memory. Many thanks to her for asking me to come back to Dayville. It's a day that lives in my reflections with the vividness of the Painted Hills.
Aimee Conner crawled out of a cave in a remote part of central Oregon. She can play the old-time fiddle and work the ancient magic of baking. She has now joined "civilized" society in Los Angeles, where you can't shoot the animals, but the animals sometimes shoot at you. She's the author of the psychological thriller Scrapbook.