Pandemic Treasure Hunt





Marcia McGreevy Lewis




 
© Copyright 2021 by Marcia McGreevy Lewis


Photo of a manatee.

Letting off steam during the pandemic can lead to astonishing treasures as I discovered when taking a spontaneous car trip.  The treasure hunt delivered two golden treasures.

We were getting stir-crazy. It had been one long year! My boyfriend and I took walks and marveled at the pots of cherry red geraniums, sprightly yellow daisies and plum-purple pansies. We went on so many walks that we searched for diversion in hidden street ends, even alleyways. Binging on TV series and playing card games had lost their luster. Cooking was repetitive, so we ordered out too much.

Bourgeoisie blues, right, but I retired with a specific agenda to travel. The world is vast, and I have a limited number of years left. I had launched a concerted effort to visit all the places I’d been longing to see, did the research, made the plans and purchased the tickets. Stop right there. COVID-19 meant that I returned the tickets, changed the plans and then crashed.

I’m the last person who should complain. I have a loving relationship, close family, friends in my pod, a carefully managed retirement plan and food on the table. I gather through Facetime with family and through Zoom with the groups with whom I used to gather in person. I meet with a few friends who are comfortable with distanced walking.

Life is fine, but every way I shot the arrow, I missed the target. I had anticipated a life of adventure, and the pandemic undermined those plans.

There are many homeless, jobless, hungry people. The virus has claimed well over 500,000 lives in our country alone. Some of my friends have life-long effects from the virus, and their lives have changed forever. My daughter worries that her children’s friends suffer from depression and have even attempted suicide.

I had no right to be angry. Do I dare admit that I was? I know. I was an ingrate, but I needed to wallow a bit, own my resentment, slap myself around, create new plans and rise from the mire. I needed to examine how I could heal in this world that was struggling fiercely to heal itself. My impact on restoring that world was frustratingly limited, so I needed to fix just myself.

I examined what makes my life worthwhile. What came to mind was giving to others, so I gave what I can where I could. I cooked my daughter’s family breakfasts and drove my grandchildren to appointments and practices. That worked. When we uplift others, we all rise.

My spirits were still gravely in need of uplifting. I knew the antidote, but international travel is still risky. I asked myself what I could do to heal in the meantime. Then I witnessed a minor explosion. My beau got so steamed up with the TV news that he jumped up from the couch, grabbed the vacuum and started cleaning rugs at mach speed. It became crystal clear that we needed to let off more steam. After examining our limited options, we determined to plan a road trip.

To pack some fun into the escapade, we made this trip a treasure hunt. We would find a new hunting location for my hunter/boyfriend. He had heard about great duck hunting in Othello, WA, and had yearned for years to find this treasure. This wasn’t going to be an easy task because the location is obscure, and rifle-toting men are sure to monitor the grounds.

Rifles don’t stop my hunter, so we planned the trip. We wanted to take a side trip stop to Tekoa, Washington, because my dad grew up there. It would be fun to see this tiny berg that is part of my family history, and we could stop en route to see my cherished sister in Spokane, Washington.

We set out in warm spring weather, driving east from Seattle to Spokane, through three distinct ecological zones. Lofty firs, cedars with their velvet fronds, azure lakes and snow-capped peaks abandoned us as we hit sagebrush country in the flatlands mid-state. There the air smelled of a mixture of cow manure and the metallic aroma of heavy earth. Arid stretches intermingled with emerald green fields when farmers had access to water. Giant circles of healthy grain crops revealed the exact areas the sprinklers covered.

Willie Nelson CDs serenaded us as we chatted our way east. Car trips are great opportunities to explore fun topics: tell me more about your childhood, how would you spend it if you were to win a million dollars and what’s your favorite movie of all time? Six hours and lots of trail mix later (we were on the trail, right?), we reached Spokane where the brown/grey, stately basalt cliffs and fragrant pines beckoned us.

My sister welcomed us as much as face masks and elbow bumps allowed. We dined with her outside, socially distanced and Clorox-bleached, on a mild evening. A gentle wind blew, and the Spokane Falls rippled below us. We exchanged isolation tales and admitted that we’re getting cabin fever--as the pre-trip maniacal vacuuming attests.

The next day we headed south toward the almost-forgotten town of Tekoa in southeast Washington. To reach it, we drove through the rolling hills of the expansive Palouse, 19,000 square miles of lush, fertile soil. Canola was growing in undulating waves of brilliant yellow blooms. Recently plowed fields created stripes of chocolate brown contrast on the vast, rippling hillsides. We stopped to talk with a farmer at his tidy farm. He told us his family has farmed there for generations and relies on Washing ton State University for guidance.

The wind-blown Palouse hills that include parts of the John Wayne Trail drew my great grandparents there in the 1880s. They farmed winter wheat and alternated it with lentils and canola. Later my ancestors turned over their farms to others so they could create businesses—a Studebaker dealership, a hardware store and a John Deere Plow dealership. We wanted to uncover the buried bones of these enterprises.

Towering steel grain elevators anchored the small towns we passed through just as statues of their forbearers affixed the larger towns to the land. When we arrived in Tekoa, my childhood memories harkened back to riding on combines at our farms. Other framers ran them then as they do today. My dad’s dying words were, “Whatever you do, don’t sell the farms.” And we haven’t, Dad.

The 2010 census lists Tekoa’s population at 778, so we smiled when a local told us that the population is now 800. The town reflects that “growth.” It does boast an art-deco theatre and the Slippery Gulch Festival in spring, though.

We popped into the antique shop and chatted with the owner who asked my dad’s name and left to roam the abbreviated version of a main street. After we spotted the used car lot with finned Cadillacs and once-hot rods, we realized that the antique store dealer was running after us. He had a book in his hands, and that’s where we found the treasure.

The book was a history of the town and contained a section devoted to my family. It even listed my name and those of my siblings. Then the antique dealer pointed out each deserted or repurposed building of my family’s former businesses. As we left, I thanked the dealer warmly and planned to order the book. That wasn’t the treasure we sought, but it was gold.

Then we headed two hours farther south to the Palouse Falls which drop an impressive 180 feet. On a short hike above the falls we came across furious water plunging through canyon walls. We returned to Spokane for the night and set off the next morning in search of the original goal of our treasure hunt.

My partner has hunted ducks since childhood, traveling considerable distances to find fields that attract fowl. He often gets up before dawn to lie in duck blinds in freezing weather. That dedication deserves a reward. We needed to find the fresh hunting grounds he had in mind.

Obscure hunting locations are inaccessible for good reason. They need to be far enough from civilization that hunters don’t mistake ducks for people, so we had a tricky time finding the grounds. When we did, the signs were clear: “No trespassing.” An additional sign: “No second chance” was ominous.

Those signs would have discouraged a normal person, but my hunter/boyfriend drove right up to the guard house and jumped out of the car. When the caregiver lumbered out in a tattered blue shirt and steel-toed boots, I cowered in the car. I expected to stare down the barrel of a shotgun or at least have an indented rear end when we got a swift kick from a boot.

My beau offered his hand, and Merv, who was not clenching a gun, introduced himself, and took it. We appeared to be getting more than a second chance when these two had a friendly chat. Now for the coveted treasure--Merv was glad we’d come and invited us to reserve space for a hunting expedition.

Merv even offered to drive us around the property. My elated partner took him up on it, and my quaking subsided--gradually. Merv pointed out numerous corn “ponds”--massive stretches of lanky corn swaying in the breeze to attract ducks. He also showed us camouflaged duck blinds that looked like blackberry vines. It turned out that this treasure was a lodge open to guests who fish or hunt. We thanked Merv warmly and planned to return.

Would we have cooked up this expedition if we weren’t about to cause havoc with a vacuum cleaner? Probably not, but it rejuvenated our spirits. My anger has disappeared, and healing has begun. Adventure was as close as our parked car. I have more energy to give to taking care of others now because the caregiver has taken care of herself. We all find our own ways of letting off pandemic steam. Sometimes that leads to remarkable treasures.



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