I stopped by the small town of Lind, in eastern Washington, to visit some dead relatives and an old friend I had never met.
Lind is a fairly small town. It has only one restaurant, and that one restaurant is closed. Out of business. That put a damper on my plans of eating breakfast there. On the bright side, Lind is a good place to go on a diet.
The main industry in and around Lind is farming. My grandfather, and one of my uncles, both spent summers there at different times, helping out with the wheat harvest. They came back with stories about how the people there farmed on hills, and the fields were so steep that the farmers had to use special equipment: combines with tilted axles that allowed them to drive on hillsides without falling over. They also brought back sandwich bags filled with super-fine, powder-like dust that they said comprised the soil in the area. Dirt so soft and loose that farmers had to use tractors with caterpillar tracks to keep from getting stuck on dry land.
To a farm kid, that is interesting stuff.
I wanted to check it out, so I made Lind one of my planned destinations. “Planned,” as in, I knew I would get there sometime. I didn’t know exactly when that would be, or what I would do when I got there. I knew I had a relative who used to live there, named Celestia Jackson, who was the reason why people from my family in Oklahoma would travel as far as Washington to work at wheat harvest. Celestia was buried in the Lind cemetery, though. And I knew that my grandparents had remained friends with someone named Curtis, who owned the farm where they had worked during wheat harvest, and that Curtis had worked at the post office in town.
So, I went to the post office. I stepped inside, to the small room where P.O. boxes were kept, and found that the rest of the post office was closed. Except for a couple of kids checking a P.O. box, no one else was around.
Feeling a need to explain myself, I told the kids that I was looking for Curtis.
“Curtis doesn’t work here anymore,” a booming voice replied.
Startled, I glanced around the room. The kids’ lips hadn’t moved, and I didn’t know how I could have missed seeing someone in the tiny, utilitarian room. But, sure enough, there was no one else there.
“Curtis doesn’t work here anymore,” the disembodied voice repeated. “He quit working here a few years ago.”
I looked back at the kids. They shrugged.
“Uh…well…” I searched for a direction in which to address the Voice. Up? Down? One of the four walls? It didn’t seem to matter, so I arbitrarily addressed a corner. “I was just trying to get in touch with him. Do you know…does he still live in town?”
“He lives in a white house a few blocks down the street,” the Voice replied.
I walked back outside, not knowing which white house on which block down which direction of which street may contain the person I was looking for. I would have figured the Voice of the USPS would have at least known his address.
Just down the block was the one open business in town, a small grocery store. I still hadn’t eaten, so I went inside and picked out a couple of items. I asked the cashier if she might know how to get in touch with Curtis, and she produced a local phone book and wrote down his number.
“By the way,” I asked, before leaving, “can you tell me where the cemetery is?”
She gave me directions to a hill just outside of town, and a few minutes later I was cruising the graveyard, looking for a Jackson headstone. I didn’t even know I was related to any Jacksons, to any Celestias, or to anyone who lived in Washington, before starting on this trip. Apparently, Celestia married a Jackson who was from Washington, and moved to the Northwest. According to the grocery store cashier, the Jacksons had no surviving relatives in the area.
I wasn’t able to see the gravestone from any of the roads, so I bundled up against the wind and started a grid search on foot. I came up with a system that I thought was efficient, that would get me to every headstone with the least amount of walking and not skip any stones along the way. I hoped I would come upon the headstone early in my search, but had no such luck. So, I began to wonder if I would visit every single gravestone in the cemetery and come upon their grave at the very last possible stone. People often talk about finding something in the last place they look, which is sometimes an unintended joke: of course it is the last place you look. After you find it, you stop looking. In this instance, it looked like I might truly find what I was looking for in the last place I could look. Sure enough, I approached the last stone in the cemetery having still not seen a single Jackson. I walked up to the last stone, the last possible place it could be, and found: still no Jacksons.
Great. All that time spent in a cold graveyard, looking at every single stone, and all I had found was an unnamed woman who had a very bad 3 weeks back in 1917.
As I walked back to my vehicle, through one of the first areas I had searched, I stumbled over the gravestone for Celestia Jackson.
Does that mean I can claim to have found it after the last place I looked?
Curtis was more than willing to talk with me, even though we had never met, and invited me to his house when I called him on the phone. This time, I was able to get an address.
Having discussed biology with Janet in Hell’s Canyon, I found myself talking geology with Curtis.
When I asked him about farming in the area, and the hills and soft soil, he explained that eastern Washington was flooded a few thousand years ago. And not a “flood” like we think of or experience now, in modern times. Think Noah. Think a 2,000-foot-deep flash flood, covering everything from Spokane to Portland. According to theory, this happened multiple times—maybe dozens—due to an ancient Lake Missoula that covered northern Idaho and western Montana. This lake, the theory holds, was formed at the end of the last ice age by a huge ice dam—a very faulty dam, which kept failing, leading to the floods.
It was these floods that created many of the soft, smooth hills people farm on today. Ever noticed ripples forming in the sand underneath a small, swift-flowing stream? Same idea, but on a much, much larger scale.
Curtis also told me about some of the geological features of southern Idaho, which I planned to visit at a later point on my trip. He showed me a sponge-like volcanic rock from the Craters of the Moon area, and also talked about the Lost River—a river that disappears into the ground, and then presumably reappears a hundred miles away in the form of hundreds of springs.
And then, of course, there is the mysterious blue turf in Boise.
Curtis was a great source of information on that area, and other places he had visited as far away as Hawaii. Those would have to wait, though. My next destination was Seattle, where I hoped to do a little Wheedle hunting.