Prairie City, Oregon.
Home of the mighty Panthers that (hopefully still) draw the majority of the town to the football field and the gym on Friday nights, this little-known gateway to the rugged, pristine and relatively untouched Stawberry Mountain Wilderness harbors exactly zero stoplights. The old Chevron station on the east end of main street probably sports its usual "Welcome Hunters" sign by now and I bet either Kelly or Barb would still pump my gas. The grocery store, the bank, the cafe and the mini-mart all lie on the quarter mile of blacktop where I rode old Jazz with my freshly polished boots, pigtails, spurs and cowboy hat in the 4th of July parade in the 80's. I yelled, screamed and cheered with my class on our float, pulled by Reuben's 1960 Chevy in the Homecoming Parade in the late 90's, and then only set foot on it maybe five times after the turn of the century. A few GO PANTHERS banners and window paintings in orange and black and jack-o-laterns, ghosts, skeletons and witches decorate the rest of the window spaces. Friends I graduated with probably work for or own some of the businesses that hope for an influx of western Oregon and out of state elk hunters, followed by a good tourist crowd next summer to keep the lights on. I took my color-book offerings to my great-grandmother and great aunt in the nursing home across from the Chevron when I was very young and then in highschool, cruised up and down the street it faced in Jennifer's white Ford Escort.
Cattle ranches still surround the tiny town in almost every direction, but the sawmill on the west end of town that, at one time, either directly or indirectly fed and clothed every child in the school district sits silent. I would bet heavily that The Hitchin Post still serves the Logger Burger and a caramel Coke, both of which we used to preorder for lunch from the rotary dial phone in the hallway right before Mr. Gerry's class. Well, that is, when we had a few extra bucks that hadn't gone into the gas tank to get out to the woods to stand around the bonfire the night before.
Today, there is an art gallery that sits next to the bank with a copper horse hanging outside. It is filled with hundreds of pieces of creative work representing thousands of hours behind an easel or throwing clay. There are pieces that have hung in Las Vegas at the National Finals Rodeo, there are pieces that have hung in reputable juried art shows, there are pieces that have hung in galleries all over the western United States, there are pieces that have been commissioned by people from everywhere and there is, most recently, gorgeous pottery (one-of-a-kind tooled leather style) sitting on every available flat surface above the floor.
In order to appreciate this gallery, one must have an interest in or appreciation for western and wildlife art.
Passion and talent to create artwork such as this is as foreign to me as riding a mountain bike from border to border is to the artist. I could not imagine finding the time, ability, inspiration or motivation to even begin to draw a stick horse, in the same way the artist would never dream of riding a balloon-tired, heavy, obnoxious looking bike in freezing cold temperatures for miles on snowy roads and trails.
Sooooooo....why do I care about this art gallery in an economically stuggling podunk town with no intersections busy enough to warrant a stoplight?
Because I actually have much in common with the phenomenal, passionate, brave, compassionate and beautiful soul responsible for the creation of this art and the existence of the Copper Horse Gallery. We both think big and dream bigger. We feel the pull of the words our hearts speak to us. We do not choose to ignore it in favor of being who we are not. We pretty much laugh at the absudities of conventional thinking and doing when it discourages following an innate passion, promotes caring only for oneself and denies any human soul to shine.
Oh, and she also was kind enough to give me an X chromosome a while ago.
I am returning to help my mom live her dreams, just as she has unconditionally supported mine from the first breath of Oregon air I inhaled. It is time. For two months this winter, before I move back to Durango, I will be giving everything I have to see her gallery built out of sacrifice, hardwork and determination succeed. This gallery and the work it contains needs to be known. This gallery can and will thrive despite its location.
Mom, Wheels and I will see you in November. I know you have been waiting for this post for a long time. Somewhere deep inside I think all the miles of pedaling this summer helped me to realize how much I needed to write this.....
Oh, and clear a space for my Pugsley. I hear its going to snow in Oregon this winter.
"Home is where the heart can laugh without shyness. Home is where the heart’s tears can dry at their own pace."