Monday, June 15, 2009

An Evening in Elgin

I take in, deeply, the silence of the place. Staying the night in a bed and breakfast, in the top floor of once was a hospital in the 1800s, I hear nothing but the quiet. It is Sunday night.

The old house, originally the town’s hospital, creaks quietly. The fourth step on the stairs moans the loudest as my fingers lightly touch the old oak railing as I ascend to my room. I am the only guest tonight, and I have the claw foot tub and the upstairs bedrooms all to myself.

Last week, the entire group of dulcimer players claimed the place, resting up after their performance at the town’s Victorian opera house. Tomorrow, the regional engineer from the highway department moves in, staying for two weeks so he can survey a big road project. But, tonight is my night. Tonight is for me, my book, my wine, and my soon to be bare feet.

The rocker moves quietly on the carpet, and the cool night air ruffles a page or two in my book. The last of the June sunset and the light bouncing off of the Victorian lampshade are the only lights in the house.

It is so quiet that the noise in the room comes from my breathing, and the turning of a page now and then.

The 140 year old oak rocker calls my name, and I soon toss my shoes into the corner and my bare feet touches the carpet. I open my bottle of wine, and pour my first glass, and crack my book. I’d opened the window a bit, in order to sniff the air, still cool and damp from the afternoon thundershower, and my ear catches the distant sound of a dog barking and children riding their bikes along the street, calling to each other. The main road from town to the nearby pass runs along this side of the house, but no one is rushing off to Walla Walla tonight. No need to go; everything you’d want is right here.

The owners, my hosts, are gone. I’ll learn tomorrow at breakfast they went to a “shop party”, to celebrate a grandchild’s birthday. It is the beginning of summer, and people are gathered outside, enjoying a bonfire, music, and birthday cake. I guess a “shop party” is a house party that just starts out too big and needs to be outside. After a long winter here in the midst of these great mountains, time to be outside is to be savored, yes, cherished with friends and family.

Long after I close my eyes, a couple of drunks staggering home from the local tavern will awaken me and the neighborhood dogs, as one cowboy loudly rattles fences and tries to imitate the dogs. I wonder how he’ll make it through a full day of work tomorrow after having a bellyful of beer. But, that experience lies ahead, when I am in my dream world, sleeping soundly on lace trimmed pillowcases and under the quilt, as the night chill moves into the room a bit deeper. I’ll chuckle at the drunks’ foolishness and soon slip back into my deep sleep.

For now, I lose myself in my book, and the second glass of wine. I slip back a century, when an evening of reading in the quiet was the norm. My ear yearns for the clip clop of a buggy or a noisier carriage, but proper Elginites would be home at this hour of the evening, resting after the morning church service and the family Sunday dinner. Tomorrow, I’d take the steam train back to LaGrande and maybe even on to Portland. Or maybe continue my journey and ride the club car to the end of the tracks in Enterprise, my suitcase, steamer trunk, and my traveling easel and paint box eager for a week or maybe the whole summer at the lake. It would be a good place to study the summer light and the evening alpenglow on the craggy mountains above the lake.

It would be a worthwhile summer long project, with plenty of time to read and enjoy the quiet. And, at the end of the season, I’d pack my paintings and ship them back to Portland, ready for the fall season at my gallery. I’d brag to my friends about the light at the end of the lake, and the oils would be fresh and rich, glowing in the new electric light of the main show room.

An hour or so later, a truck runs noisily along the road, spewing diesel and the amplified thump of a country western bass line, and it’s not 1909 anymore. Still, the oaky creak of the rocking chair and the delicate flowers of the wallpaper and the claw foot tub at the end of the hall hold me back in time.

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