The last I left you, Dear Readers, we were about to leave our little cabin after a year of living off the grid. Well, shortly after, we packed up our ’67 caravan and began our trek across the country to Michigan, where I grew up, and where we’ll spend the majority of our summer.
We got as far south as Missoula, where we spent our first night with dear friends, and then decided to chuck our itinerary and turn right instead of left. Sometimes the best agenda is to stay flexible.
So we headed to the west coast first, taking a car ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island, and camped there for a few days visiting with the kids’ godmother and old friends of my husband’s. More about that in another post, but we had a really grounding time there, it was a beautiful experience to be on the Puget Sound quietly camped beneath these immense, lush trees with the city within reach.
But my ultimate goal was to be off the road by the Fourth of July and not be dealing with traffic or camp sites over the holiday. So we packed up and turned the camper around and headed due east. Mostly. I mean, there’s so much to see in this country, and what better way to see it all? We went to the amazing but underappreciated Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, MT, (with the always-up-for-a-spontaneous-trip godmother in tow!) and on to Yellowstone.
Pure Americana. Old Faithful, hiking to the mud pots, traffic pulled to the side for the bison spectacular, bumper to bumper camp sites, it was everything it should have been! From there, it was on to the Badlands and Mount Rushmore.
We even followed the 150 or so billboards to the famous tourist trap that is Wall Drug. *Shudder* But I did buy a stack of books there. You know I did. And I’m about to get to that. Anyhow, after Wall Drug, we kind of put our noses to the grindstones (or the pedal to the metal as the case may be) in order to get here by the 4th, and we did. The last couple of days were long traveling days with few stops- gas, bathroom, bathroom, gas, camp for the night. South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and we finally pulled into my dad’s driveway on the afternoon of the 3rd, just in time. The kids got to see our beautiful small-town 4th of July parade, we watched the fireworks over the harbor from the beach of some of my oldest and dearest, and that brings us pretty much up to date. Phew, so there we are! Hello from beautiful Northern Michigan! We’ve rented a small cabin by the lake and will be here for the next six weeks or so.
My friend in Missoula handed it to me to read while we were there, and I fell in love with it. Then a week and a half later in the bookstore of Wall Drug, what should I come across? It was surely a sign. Clarence Goes Out West and Meets a Purple Horse. The book came out after a series of illustrations by Jean Ekman Adams was shown about a pig named Clarence and his purple horse friend, Smoky. It was a such a fun project that she decided to make a picture book out of it.
Clarence the sweet-natured and shy pig is leaving the city for a vacation. He takes the bus alllllll the way across the country until he arrives in the indeterminate area of “out west.” He timidly begins to explore the ranch where he’ll be staying, feeling tiny and homesick.
It’s not until he meets the ranch horse named Smoky that be begins to climb out of his funk. Clarence proves to be a loyal and supportive friend, and they instantly click. Smoky teaches Clarence to line dance, to play the washtub, and takes him riding in a way that doesn’t frighten or make the poor pig anxious.
Clarence loves his new dear friend, and one day as they’re snuggled up in a chair reading (though the book is charmingly upside down), Smoky confesses that he’s an old horse and will soon be sent to, well, wherever old horses go.
“I hope it is someplace where I can still feel the breeze in my mane and the raindrops on my ears.”
Clarence can’t bear the thought of it, and he takes his bus money home and buys Smoky from the ranch.
Clarence will just have to ride Smoky all the way home. It might take a long time. Maybe years. But maybe they can stop on the way to take pictures…or to play cards. Or maybe they will join a rodeo. Clarence the Line Dancing Pig and His Famous Purple Horse Smoky. That would be good. Maybe they can sleep out under the stars and look for the Big Dipper. That would be good, too.
The book ends with that beautiful story arc that makes you heave a gratified sigh that there are writers out there who can fashion true companionship. Our tender hero meets his kindred spirit and they go riding off into the sunset. And the pen and ink and watercolor illustrations are so bright and yet so peaceful. It’s the book I want to buy for every child in my life right now.
What are you reading these days? Any great new summer books that I should know about?