Of quail and Noodles

4 09 2006


Note to self: It’s bad karma to kill locals.

The victim never saw it coming. He met his fate on a deserted Oregon road in the late golden glow of a summer’s afternoon. Life extinguished. Gone. Snuffed out in a nanosecond. No Colonel Mustard on the scene. No candlestick. Don’t even ask about a library.

I tell you this because life ain’t no board game, viagra canada clinic kids. This proves it. Just a puff of feathers, best viagra patient a dull thud, and you’re gone. Feathers are optional of course, but will always add to the mystique.

“Umm…was that a duck?”

“Looked more like a quail,” I say. “But I did only see it for a split second.”

The murderer—let’s call him Matthias N. of Queanbeyan, NSW, Australia—turns towards me. I am nearly blinded by the guilt flashing in neon on his face.

“You swerved to hit it,” I say, thinking this will be a good bit to needle the boy with. But poor Matt, he wears his guilt like the Bayeux Tapestry. All stitched in, complete, and hung for all to see.

“Actually, maybe it was a grouse?” I say. I have no idea what grouse look like, but there’s a distinct possibility that I’ve just seen one.

The golden fields flash by and Killer Matt is quiet. I note for future reference that he is far too honest and pure. He’d be hopeless in a line up. Crack like a walnut. I rule out any future Bonnie and Clyde-type heists with him.

So you’re probably wondering where we are. Let me bring you up to speed.

Two hours earlier I landed in Pasco, Washington State, where I met up with Matt and Sergey. These fine gentlemen were taking 12 days to drive through a bunch of states and have a sort of ‘boys own’ adventure. I decided to interrupt this avalanche of blokey behavior and join for the last 6 days of the trip.

A sort of Noodle in the works, if you will.

I’d arrived at the rendezvous point in a small plane. A clutch-and-pray flight from Seattle with Alaskan Airlines. I wrote the airline a tagline while I was searching for the bottom of my stomach in a moment of gut-dropping turbulence.

“Fly Alaskan. Free booze, nerves soothed.”

Not my best work, but I was under duress. Hey, they give you free booze. They know their market. That’s good. I approve.

I’d been strapped tightly to my seat in the tail section, sucking down an Alaskan beer and scanning the terrain. Trying not to think the word ‘height’. The earth looked like the top of a cake taken straight from the oven and put on a rack to cool. All fissures and cracks and not a tree in sight. Completely different to what I was now looking at, a couple of hours later.

Now, I’m zooming across ground-level Oregon, and the scene is completely different. It’s like the planet has ducked into the wings and changed its wardrobe. It now sports an undulating straw-yellow sea on its shoulders, with giant wind turbines stitched here and there for decoration.

Out here you can see for miles. And miles. And miles again.

Which is why I find it odd that the following didn’t happen before the murder occurred.

Duck/Quail/Grouse 1: “Cheep, cheep.”
Subtitle: I see a car coming up the road

Duck/Quail/Grouse 2: “Cheep? Cheep, cheep.”
Subtitle: Really? We should get off the road now, rather than wait to be struck by it.

Duck/Quail/Grouse 1: “Cheep, cheep.”
Subtitle: Yes, let’s.

See, if that little birdie conversation had taken place, there’d be no guilt in this car right now. There’d be no visions of blood and guts on the front bumper. But I guess Oregon fowl have very bad depth perception. Objects in mirror are further than they appear?

Ok, strike the grouse and the duck. It’s an Oregon Quail. I know this now because I extracted its body from the front grill of the truck about half-an-hour later when we stopped to fix the bad karma flat tire.

Here’s how it plays out. The boys start fixing the tire as the sun sets. Me, being a closet CSI, I walk around the front of the truck looking for blood splatter. I stop in my tracks. There it is. The victim. Hanging in the grill in a rather comical way. I move closer, pinch a wiry bird ankle, then yank and fling it in a non-thought-out direction.

I may be a farm girl, but I don’t hold no truck with dead bird ankles.

The poor bird’s final flight is far from graceful, and it lands with a rude thud in the red pebble garden of a roadside motel. It’s the kind of motel a serial killer might own. I walk over to check the carcass. The coroner’s examination reveals not a single mark on its body.

I call the boys over and they laugh their asses off for a bit. Heartless. When the laughter dies down, I’m pretty sure I witness a new sleeper wave of guilt wash over Matt.

Sergey is immune.

“That looks like a tasty bird,” he says. “We should keep it.”

I am both amused and horrified by this statement. And a little bit hungry. They wander off to finish fixing the tire and I stare at the tiny body. Well, he’s right. It does have nice drumsticks.

The sun is setting on America. A tire is flat. A quail and the Crocodile Hunter died today.


Note to self: Our trip could be the start of a joke.

Two Australians and a Russian walk into a bar.

Actually, that’s as far as I’ve gotten with the joke. Hey, I never said it was a good joke. Feel free to finish it yourselves when you’ve read the whole story.

The swanky bar in question is part of the Hotel Condon. Classy. Olde worlde, classy. And empty. Matt wanders out the back to find someone to get us a drink. Once served, we toast Steve, say ‘Crikey’ a couple of times, and proceed to get toasted.

The next morning, that’s when things get a little hinky.

As we’re checking out, Matt—who could start a conversation with a dead tree—strikes up a conversation with a local. Her name is Glenna. Next thing I know, Sergey and little ol’ me are tailing a car towards the town of Fossil. Matt is not with us. He’s in the kidnap vehicle we are now tailing.

“Off route. Off route,” says the GPS woman. She is the mistress of understatement.

All at once, I see Matt’s future. It’s on the side of a milk carton. Thinking of a career in kidnapping? Here’s a tip for you. If you’re ever trying to get Matt in a car, you just need something weird as the carrot. Glenna—if that is her real name—was a pro. She found his little curiosity hot button and pushed the hell out of it.

“Come with me,” she kind of said. “I will show you the albino porcupine.”

ALBINO PORCUPINE. That’s all it took.

“Off route.”

“Yeah, we hear you, lady.” I can tell that even our GPS companion is scared that she won’t see Matt again.

Unfortunately, I know how stories like this go. There’s no point hiding it from Sergey. I break the sad news as to the fate of Matt. I explain that we will turn a bend pretty soon up the road. The sun will blind Sergey for a split second. That’s all it will take. We’ll lose them, never to see our boy again.

Sergey and I laugh at the ludicrousness of it. But still, I snap a photo of Glenna’s license plate. Trust me, it will help the authorities later on.

Since Matt will no longer be traveling with us, I figure I need to adapt to this new circumstance and not hold on to grief. With this in mind, I make a concerted effort to learn more about my Russian traveling companion. Until yesterday, I had never met him, so, you know. Stranger danger and all that guff. And if Matthias truly is gone, it’s important to move on. Not get trapped in the sorrow, etcetera, etcetera.

But like a bad director, it seems I have cut too soon. Matt does not disappear in a blinding flash of sunlight. In fact, we follow the kidnap vehicle right up to the Fossil High School and reunite our entire traveling party.

Matt emerges from Glenna’s car, grinning like crazy. You’d swear by the look on his face that he’d just been given a secret map pointing the way to the secret chocolate shop in Atlantis.

The weird thing about fossil hunting in Fossil is that in order to make your way to easy fossil pickings, you need to walk across the playground of the Fossil high school. We kind of excuse our way through baseball practice, or some sort of coaching, as we walk across to the scarred side of a hill.

Fossils. They’re everywhere. Just lying around. I pick up a couple of tiny pieces. Ferns and such. Stuff them in my bag in a kind of archaeological Indiana Jones thievery kind of way.

We listen as Glenna explains how Bill Bowerman—Nike founder—was from around here. I love the story of him borrowing his wife’s waffle iron to make shoe soles. Mmmm, waffles.

And then Glenna takes us to visit the Fossil mammoth. This is a very unexpected turn of events. In the middle of nowhere, there it is. A giant steel mammoth that we never would have known about had Matt not been coaxed into Glenna’s car.

She is the world’s best tourist guide kidnapper.

We’re a little behind schedule, but so far, it’s worth it. To keep the craziness going, and to keep the aforementioned promise of seeing an albino porcupine alive, Glenna takes us to her mother’s house to see the fossil fireplace they’ve built.

When we get there, Sergey says “thanks for the kindness” by promptly reversing over something in the driveway.

We look at each other nervously. That kind of clunk can only mean one thing. You, Sir, have reversed over some treasured object. It this case, it is the wagon wheel mailbox, and an ornate little flowerbox. Not the best start when making a house call.

Hey, yeah. Thanks for showing us around. It’s been great. Now let me destroy something you probably took a weekend constructing!

Anyway, God bless Glenna and her Fossil tour.

“Do you want to see the horn tree?” she asks.

I’m thinking it must be some kind of native tree that I’ve never heard of. But it turns out to be an actual archway made of deer horn. Now I’m grinning like an idiot. It’s fantastic! Glenna’s mum has a fantastic yard, filled with oddities. I love America. And then, the lights go down and a hush falls over the crowd.

Please stand for the albino porcupine.

He’s not quite what I was expecting. For one, he’s dead. I seemed to have missed that in the brochure. Two, he’s also inside a glass case, snarling out with big pointy teeth. Three, I didn’t expect him to be such a …toilet brushy, freaky toothy, indoory-type thing. I take two quiet and respectful photos before we leave.

As the sight of Glenna and her mother waving from the driveway disappear from view, we all give each other a bit of a look. My eyes say it. Sergey’s eyes say it. Matt’s eyes practically scream it from a megaphone.


Later, though our off-route morning had thrown us for a loop, we realized we’d had an excellent day of adventure. A kidnap attempt, fossil beds, a rusty mammoth sighting, an albino porcupine, some painted hills, a lava chute—which we didn’t actually get to see because a park ranger, in a flagrant dereliction of duty, refused us entry —smoky golden sunsets, bear prints and more.

Before we hit sunset, Sergey asks Matt what the highlight of his trip so far is. Matt, without a moment’s hesitation, says:

“The albino porcupine.”

If you see him on the street. Ask him again. I have no doubt he will say the same thing.


Note to self: The bloke who said “We have nothing to fear but fear itself” was afraid of saying what he really meant.

And that is:
“A bear can rip your scalp off with a single swipe of its Animal Planet endorsed paw.”

I’m not afraid of fear. I’m afraid of bears. And I’ll say it to anyone who’s ears aren’t filled with Britney Spears.

When you walk out into the bush in Australia, do you know what can eat you? Nothing. Lots of things can kill you dead, Fred. But nothing can eat you. Well, except crocodiles. But they seem to prefer German tourists. Anyway, on with the story.

‘There’s an inordinate amount of bear hair around here,’ I think to myself as I wander back to the tent site. And dirt. Dirt and bear hair. Two of my favorite things.

Last night, we hit the rim of Crater Lake right on sunset. For a ruddy great hole in the ground, it sure was pretty as a damn postcard that’s had the crap Photoshopped out of it. And it was a hell of a moment to come over the lip of it.

One of those moments where you climb and climb and climb and get bored with the climbing, and then all of a sudden you crest the top of the climb and there’s something that sucks the wind out of your lungs and shuts you right the hell up.

And if that happens at sunset, it’s the perfect storm of opportunity. The golden hour for photography. I have a new Nikon and no knowledge of how to use it. Which explains why I took 300 photos to compensate. We wander around, laughing and ooohing and ahhing.

Matt finds a dirty snow bank and begins hurling snowballs at Sergey. There are bushfires about, and the air is even more golden because of it. I’m so glad to be out of New York. It catches up to me all at once.

It’s the only way I can explain my grin.

That night I experience something I never expected. An MRE meal. Turns out Sergey is a bit of an Internet shopper, and amongst his supplies are these little treats. We’ve cranked up the fire and now I’m being taught how to read instructions and take part in the lucky dip of an MRE.

I, of course, pick the one that has Noodles.

It’s strangely fun and a scientific, eye-opening moment when I learn how to cook the food in the little bag. Smells like living in a fuel tank for a while, but it’s total magic. And in my MRE there were M&Ms, which is a bit of coup.

“Did you see all those tufts of bear hair?” I ask.

It’s the next morning, and I’ve just tramped the path back to the camp from the public bathroom.

“Yeah, I saw that,” says Matt. I can’t work out from the look on his face if he’s realized yet that I actually have a genuine fear of bears. Like I would physically start to cry if confronted or adequately scared. That kind of fear. And I’m not afraid of much. But it’s a genuine and irrational fear. I realize that.

I’ve done my best to fend off numerous jokes throughout the night about bears, but the bear hair tufty in the woodsy thing freaks me a little. Too little too late I guess. We’ve survived the night without being eaten.

I like not being eaten.

We start to pack up and I do my best to help with camp related things. But I don’t know what’s happened to me. I’ve become citified. I love camping, but I hate dirt. I really hate it.

“I’ll stand over here on this rock,” I say. “It’s not very dirty over here.”

And I do. I stand on a rock while Matt and Sergey pack up the campsite and sweep things down. I have guilt. Sure. But not enough to get smudges on my shorts.

It’s not that I’m lazy—though maybe it is and I’m in some kind of weird, firewalled denial—it’s just that I don’t have farm clothes on me. Farm clothes enjoy getting dirty. And I didn’t bloody pack them, ok?

Not caring about getting dirty—that was the first thing to go when New York seduced the Noodle. The accent is on the way out as we speak. The last thing to go will be forgetting the terminology of cricket.

Oh, the horror. Imagine forgetting what a googly or a flipper is?

It will be a dark day.

Continue on to Part 2

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©Janeen McCrae 2006



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