"The 98635" is a little term I've coined for the area where I spent a lot of time during my childhood, and where I lived during high school, otherwise known as Lyle, Washington. My mom moved there from Seaside, Oregon sometime in the late 80's...I think I was 6 years old. I remember the first time we drove up there, in the middle of winter, and as we were driving up the winding road, looking at the snow on the ground, I suddenly thought "this isn't Seaside". I asked my mom where we were going and she told me we were going to her new house, where Rodger (our new stepdad) lived. Rodger lived on the top of Fisher Hill, had a daughter who lived with her mom in Hood River, Oregon, and owned a game bird preserve and clay shooting course called R&M Gamebirds
This very quickly became known amongst us children as "The Ranch". His daughter, Daneille, and my brother and I became fast friends. Our parents were great enough to arrange our weekends so that we would be visiting our parents on the same weekends and get to spend time together. The Ranch was basically in the middle of nowhere, with vast fields surrounding it. There was some forest as well...lots of oak and evergreen trees. We quickly learned about dogs, since our parents now raised and bred hunting dogs, as well as pheasants and chuckars which were also raised there. Rattlesnakes were dangerous, but the blue-bellied lizards that lived in the rock wall of the house were cute and pet-able. The larger lizards around the property were impossible to catch. We all became adept at working different areas of the clay course and game preserve...pulling trap for clay shooters, picking up bullet casings, washing out dog kennels, feeding dogs, picking up pheasant and chuckar eggs, hauling hay, you name it.When I was a teenager, I became quite a handful for my father. I was rebellious, angry, and very confused. He ended up becoming so concerned for my safety living in the city, that shortly after starting my second semester in high school, he sent me to live up on The Ranch with my mom. Luckily, she worked in Hood River, so he arranged for me to go to high school there and not in Lyle. During the three and a half years that I lived full-time at The Ranch, I developed a deep connection with the land up there. This was the first time I experienced such a connection with a place. There is such a deep history there that you could almost feel the spirits rise up from the grasses and tell their stories.
When I wasn't picking up pheasant eggs or doing homework, I would often go for long rambling walks with my beautiful German Short Hair Pointer, Buddy. It may sound silly, but he was like another brother to me. If I started going down a strange path, he would get so worried and fretful...I figured his instincts were probably better than mine and would allow him to tell me what not to do. We visited seasonal ponds that had dragonflies galore, old broken down houses, creepy dirt roads that led to strange clearings, cliff faces, and gorgeous expanses of flowering fields.
Walking these fields, I would dream of owning a ranch some day, with a few horses, dogs, and cats. Just me and the land and my animals. Living in such an area allowed me to explore my spirituality, and find something that was all my own. I now know the beauty that comes from living such a life, and the hardships that go with it. To this day, my connection with those rambling hills and the Columbia River Gorge remains.
My stepdad, Rodger Ford, recently passed away on April 18th, and we are all grieving. Everyone who knew him was touched by his love and humor. He worked hard to help change many peoples' lives, and was always a gracious and caring father to us. He taught me how to drive and was extremely patient whenever instructing us in anything. I have been very lucky to have this man in my life for the past 22 years, and he will be sorely missed. My memories of him and The Ranch will remain forever.