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They didn't worry about traffic on the Oregon Trail

When my husband and I moved from the San Francisco Bay area to the Rogue Valley 10 years ago, we laughed when the old-timers complained about how bad the traffic had become here in recent years.

“But we don’t have traffic here!” we'd scoff.

I remember the first Monday morning after arriving, we arose early to take our truck to the repair shop in town. There were almost no other cars on the road.

“Is it a holiday we forgot about?” we asked ourselves. Nope. Just a typical early morning in Southern Oregon.

I was thinking about this yesterday as I sat at stop light in Medford that always seems unusually long. Sometimes I actually count the number of seconds and am surprised at how short the light stays red. Sometimes it’s 30 seconds, sometime it’s 90 seconds and rarely is it a full 2 minutes. And, yes, I get impatient. I just did the math: there are 1,440 minutes in a day, and I just spent two of them at a red light! That’s 1/720th of my day I’ll never get back!

So I started thinking about those early settlers who moved out West by wagon train. It wasn’t all that long ago, really. In 1836 the first organized migrant wagon train left from Independence, Missouri, eventually making its way to the Willamette Valley.

What must that have been like? Braving thunder and lightning, extreme cold, extreme heat, rattlesnakes, raging rivers, Indian attacks, wild animals, lack of water and food along the way. No place to ask for help with a broken wheel, no gas stations to stop for a cool drink. The typical diet along the trail consisted of bacon, beans, coffee and biscuits. People suffered from scurvy and survivors buried thousands of cholera victims in unmarked graves along the trail. No medical care, no antibiotics.

One could die from appendicitis or an infected tooth or a sore throat. Women lost babies, lost children, lost husbands, lost cattle, lost belongings, lost their way and lost their lives. At the end of a long arduous day’s journey, they had to cook and clean and mend and take care of children. Having no contact with the outside world, their only choices were to carry forward, or lay down and die. I’m reminded of the Donner party who suffered so terribly. How excruciating it must be to watch your loved ones die from hunger!

And it wasn’t all that long ago that my own grandmother gave birth to 11 children at home during the Depression and struggled to feed her brood. They raised their own vegetables when they could and occasionally killed a chicken, if they had any, but frequently went hungry.

As I sit, impatiently tapping my fingers on the steering wheel waiting for the light to turn, I think about how far we’ve come. How very, very lucky we are. How ridiculous to be aggravated by something as inconsequential as a two-minute traffic light. And I am humbled.

Darlene Ensor lives in Jacksonville.