Yesterday the House Leroy and I drove up through the Blue Mountains and into the Wallowas to Wallowa Lake to retrieve The Boy. It’s a good time of year for it; the fields down here in the valley are a patchwork of green, gold, and brown, but as we drove up into the Blues the fields turned to green meadows filled with wildflowers, and snowmelt streams still edge with icy lace poured down into the swollen rivers. As we reached the summit of the Blues snowbanks still lingered in shadows, and banks of daffodils bloomed by abandoned cabins.
This used to be a big area for logging, but since the industry basically folded years ago the only real industries are ranching, and in some places, tourism. People come here to go rafting, fishing, and hiking. Some come to pan for gold. We came to retrieve Patrick, The Boy, from Brass Camp.
Oregon is a state of contrasts. We have the urban, civilized, and agricultural Willamette Valley corridor. We have the agricultural north central part of the state, where I live. And we have thousands of square miles of empty space divided into desert and forest. Traveling from my home in the agricultural north central part of the state up into the Wallowas is like going to another world. The very energy of the mountains is different.
As we drove I pursued my usual hobby of picking out houses I love. It’s become something of a joke on car trips. By now both Patrick and the House Leroy can pick out my houses for me, with some accuracy. But when I started picking out old farmhouses situated in meadows and log cabins tucked into the forests Leroy said, “Yeah, right..you, a woman alone living up here. You’d better learn how to shoot straight.”
Turns out Leroy was just remembering what I should have remembered from my childhood in the mountains: People who move to the backwoods in Oregon generally do it for a reason. Some, like me, just love the energy and solitude. Many do it because they Don’t Play Well With Others. Some even Run With Scissors. Living alone in what is essentially wilderness demands a certain set of skills–and a certain type of personality. If you don’t come with it, I suspect you acquire it. And in all that wilderness, there’s not enough civilization to knock the rough edges off. People who live in Oregon’s wild places have a Strong Flavor. For many that’s an unaquired Acquired Taste.
I thought of myself squatted by my front door, sighting down my rifle barrel at a troublesome neighbor come to steel my firewood, and while I didn’t stop picking out the houses I loved, I did stop speculating about possibly moving into one of them.
And then we were there, at the camp, and there was Patrick, walking toward me across the field between the lodge and the parking lot. He said hello, and then he fished his DS out of the back seat, lifted it in his hand, and said, “Going to go get some pictures…fond memories!” And he walked away.
And that set the tone for the rest of our time at the camp–he brought his stuff from his cabin, and put it into the car, then headed off for his tuba–and forgot to come back. I watched him wandering through the crowd by the lodge, talking to friends and snapping pictures. He started back toward the me, then turned around and went back for the forgotten tuba. We got it shoehorned into the trunk and then went to stand in line for the barbecue.
We ate our hotdogs, fruit chunks, potato salad, and jello sitting on the grass in the sun–and then he was off with his DS, talking to friends and shooting pictures. And then we started back through the mountains toward the auditorium where the last event of Brass Camp was scheduled–a concert.
We parked the car, got out the tuba, and Patrick disappeared with it. I went into the auditorium and found a seat. Parents and family began to stream in and fill the other chairs. By the time the camp director welcomed us the room was full.
The concert began. A five-piece group. A nine-piece group. A stageful of trombones. A stageful of trumpets. The music was incredible. I sat there listening to the bright, clear notes of the trombones and trumpets, the smooth mellow notes of the horns, and then, at last, the deep, velvety tones of the tubas.
There were a lot of them, and they came in different sizes. When Patrick started taking tuba lessons I had thought they were pretty much limited to marching bands and comedy music. Over the years I have come to appreciate the finer points of the instrument as I listened to him play, and compete in musical festivals. Even so, though, yesterday was a revelation. There were too many tubas to put on the stage, so the director had us help set up chairs and music stands on the main floor. Eighteen of them. And then the tubas came in. I have grown used to seeing Patrick tower of the rest of the band. Yesterday I saw him in a line with ten other tuba players–and every one of those boys was huge. It was like looking at the Defensive Linemen of music.
Then the second row came in. These were the baby tuba players–or, rather, the euphonium players. Euphoniums look like baby tubas. The conductor lifted his hands, and the band began to play. It sounded like velvet, like thunder. It was music to be felt, not just heard. Tuba ensembles demand a response, and it comes from deep in your bones.
When they finished there was a moment of silence as we in the audience caught our breath, and then a storm of clapping. It was more than just fond parents applauding their children’s efforts–it was the just due for an incredible performance. And it happened in a week.
I’m not a great one for promoting products here, or even for offering advice. This is more my thinking place. But I’ve had a week to think about this, and watching Patrick at the camp yesterday, (Patrick, who started the camp feeling homesick, but who finished with “fond memories”), followed by that amazing concert has convinced me it’s time to do both: If you have a child who longs to make his or her mark on the world, suggest band. And if you possibly can, send your child to Music Camps @ Wallowa Lake.
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