Ode to Oregon
Our people aimed for Oregon
When they left Newburyport–
Great-grandma Ruth, her husband John,
But they pulled up in Wobegon,
Two thousand miles short.
It wasn’t only the dangers ahead
That stopped the pioneer.
My great-grandmother simply said,
“It’s been three weeks without a bed.
I’m tired. Let’s stay here.”
He put the horses out to graze
While she set up the tent,
and they sat down beside their blaze
And held each other’s hand and gazed
Up at the firmament.
“John,” she said, “what’s on your mind
Besides your restlessness?
You know I’m not the traveling kind,
So tell me what you hope to find
Out there that’s not like this?”
The fire leaped up bright and high,
The sparks as bright stars shone.
“Mountains,” he said. “Another sky.
A Green new land where you and I
Can settle down to home.
“You are the dearest wife to me.
Though I’m restless, it is true,
And Oregon is where I’d be
And live in mountains by the sea,
But never without you.”
They stayed a week to rest the team,
Were welcomed and befriended.
The land was good, the grass was green,
And slowly he gave up the dream,
And there the journey ended.
They bought a farm just north of town,
A pleasant piece of rolling ground,
A quarter-section, mostly cleared;
He built a house before the fall;
They lived there forty years in all,
And by God persevered.
And right up to his dying day
When he was laid to rest,
No one knew–he did not say–
His dream had never gone away,
He still looked to the west.
She found it in his cabinet drawer:
A box of pictures, every one
Of mountains by the ocean shore,
The mountains he had headed for
In the state of Oregon.
There beside them lay his will.
“I love you, Ruth,” the will began,
And count myself a well-loved man.
Please send my ashes when I die
To Oregon, some high green hill,
And bury me and leave me lie
At peace beneath the mountain sky,
Off in that green and lovely land
We dreamed of, you and I.”
At last she saw her husband clear
Who stayed and labored all those years,
His mountains all uncrossed.
Of dreams postponed and finally lost,
Which one of us can count the cost
And not be filled with tears?
And yet how bright the visions are
Of mountains that we sense afar,
The land we never see:
The golden west and golden gate
Are visions that illuminate
And give wings to the human heart
Wherever we may be.
That old man by dreams possessed,
By Oregon was truly blessed
Who saw it through the eye of faith,
The land of his sweet destiny:
In his eye, more than a state
And something like a star.
I wrote this poem in Oregon,
Wanting the leaden words to soar
In memory of my ancestor
And all who live along the way.
God rest their souls on a golden shore,
God bless us who struggle on:
We are the life that they longed for,
We bear their visions every day.
~ Garrison Keillor