Thursday, July 26, 2012



On the way to John Day, we heard two different versions of the Miner’s Prayer – with it’s images of mines and fires the song is perfect for a town that essentially grew as fires forced migration from the nearby mining boomtown of Canyon City.   Like all of eastern Oregon there seems to be fire just behind the surface of things, as if the landscape were printed on paper that could suddenly darken, char, then ripple and split with flames.   And it’s fire oddly enough that keeps the town here.  Firefighting is the predominate occupation here.  On  Saturday The Grub Steak Saloon is full of men drinking, playing poker, and talking about the coming fire season the way farmers talk the growing season of crops. The place, from its beginning has existed in a precarious balance between the dollar and elemental danger. It makes sense that the queen of a town built on taking risks (and often loosing) should be Nan, enthroned  at the poker table. Red lips, red nails, a sharp eye and a sharper tooth behind a wide and genuine smile. The slap of her cards and the occasional slap of  hand away from her ass punctuate the slurred talk and the muddy juke box. Her eyes are bright and friendly but her eye make-up has a  broken glamour, as if the perfect, dark lines she applied earlier can’t quite contain the  amount of stories  she sees unfold in an evening. Around her table beer and whiskey irrigate the tinderbox night.