Heidi Isern

writer. thinker. whiskey drinker.

A Changed Place

Location: Kennewick, Washington

Mileage: 7,200

Music: “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac

Meal: Alderplank smoked salmon with garden vegetables

I left eastern Montana for the west, heading into the most beautiful part of the state I was born in.  My car chugged up the switchbacks at the foothills of the Beartooth mountains.  I looked fondly at the jagged peaks where I had spent many summers learning to hike, fish and sleep under the stars.  I’ll never forget my first overnight backpack trip.  At age eight, my bright red pack weighed almost as much as I did, loaded with supplies and ample helpings of mom’s homemade trail mix. My little legs struggled to keep up with the long strides of my father who led his family troop to glacier expanses above the tree line.  My mother conducted marching songs so that my brother and I kept up spirit during the steep inclines and intimidating ridges.

Now, many years later, my car struggled much more than my body ever had.  The 11 year of piece of metal had gone through quite an undertaking in the past few weeks.  My brakes squeaked, the 4 cylinder engine grunted, and my left window, slightly off its track, stopped rolling up all the way.  I prayed that it wouldn’t rain until I found duct tape to seal it tight.   Yes, duct tape.  On a car that had $800 stilettos in its trunk.

I finally passed through Montana’s green beauty into a dry patch of land in eastern Washington called the Tri City area.  I was not going to do an interview here.  Rather I was going to reclaim a place that haunted me….and spend some quality time with my parents.

We moved to Kennewick (one of the three cities that made up the ‘tri’) when I was 16, a move I then considered a “forcible extraction” from my childhood haven in upstate New York.  Teenagers are not good at seeing all sides of an equation, too consumed with their own needs and desires to understand the complicated decisions parents must make.

When we first landed in eastern Washington, I was confused.  I asked my parents, “Where are all the trees?”  We had left lush forests for a lonely desert, a land originally settled for one reason -to develop the Atomic Bomb.  Like most children, I demonstrated my displeasure of my “extraction” by the one way I knew how-rebellion.  It could have been the fault of rebellion, the vacant lands that offered little diversion but trouble, or just plain bad luck, but the Atomic bomb development grounds had stores of weapons for me as well.  To this day, I still cannot remember all the details of the terrific night I got myself involved with; a black void had managed to fill the second half of my 16th year.  However, careful application of pancake makeup covered the bruises, vomit sessions removed the taste, Pink Floyd’s “comfortably numb” calmed my soul, and I was able to un-victimize myself.  I cannot say all the coping choices I made were healthy ones, but I managed to move forward by keeping secrets and leading a dual life until I could escape the place that I felt wanted to destroy me.

My parents remained in the area and watched the lands transform from angry dirt into a scenic irrigated river valley, ripe with friendly orchards and vineyards.  They picked up ballroom dancing and created an engaging social network filled with wine and music. I refused to see the transformation and remained reluctant to visit ‘that place’, determined to hold onto my loathing and blame.

However, all my recent travels and conversations had given me a new perspective.  Perhaps I could not only forgive, but also see both people and places in a new light, understanding that if I turn the kaleidoscope, a whole new pattern of colors will emerge for me to look through.

My mother went to a gentle yoga class every Sunday, calling it her weekly ‘church’ and invited me to go with her.  Although I typically would have declined, preferring the adrenaline of Ashtanga or the combat of Muay Thai, I decided to join her.  In addition to sharing an experience with my mother, I needed to release my mind and stretch my innards. With a loving calm voice, the instructor told us to unblock our hearts so that we may move our bodies forward-a mantra I repeated to myself throughout the poses in the class.

Properly soothed and unblocked, my mother and I took an afternoon walk together into the neighborhood hills.  Horse stables, grapevines, and apple trees stretched over the soft canvas. Perhaps it was the wise eastern philosophy of our yogi, or perhaps it was a long walk into a transformed place, but my mother and I finally talked about all the things that did and did not happen.  The floodgates opened and memories and emotion and secrets poured out like hot water from a hissing tea kettle.  The two of us walked faster than ever before, the steepness of the outside hills rendered inconsequential compared to the mountains we were climbing inside ourselves.  Words and tears mixed together and we didn’t stop until we were completely empty inside and no heat remained.

100 pounds lighter, we returned home.  My father had fish on his smoker and my mother prepared fresh vegetables from the garden.  They eagerly poured wine from their cellar and looked at me expectantly to confirm that it was indeed just as good, if not better, than those California blends I am so fond of.  I swirled the glass and let the burgundy liquid cover my throat in blackberry and tobacco tannins. I nodded my approval-it was sensually delicious.  The evening sun descended, providing us with a brilliant light show that emblazoned the hills in a spectacle of colors from crimson to violet.  I had never realized how beautiful eastern Washington could be. I looked at my parents’ warm faces and was grateful that no matter what had happened along the years, we had enough love that could heal it.  For the first time I was eager to come back and visit.

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