ASTRONAUTS, TOO

Indeed, the day was already getting on. We set out on paved trails only to hear camera-toting tourists in halter tops and polyester shorts complain about the path. “If these idiots can’t follow blacktop, heaven help us,” I told him.

“Can you imagine these suckers in deep forest?” he answered.

“Actually,” I said, “these asphalt walkways are far superior to the logging roads around here. If they only knew!”

In time, he’d see just what people inflict on back country when their sport-utility vehicles and litter invade logging roads. For now, observing a huff-a-puff, bug-eyed depletion force out-of-shape sightseers to halt pitifully at ten-foot intervals, Todd reevaluated his theory that mere exposure to wilderness might bring about mass spiritual enlightenment. He conceded that without preparation, including effective teaching, the encounter itself can be meaningless. Knowing the names and relationships of what one meets is important. …

For that matter, I perceived how few Americans have seen much of their own land. They’re not alone, either. It’s taken Todd nearly three decades to get to this corner of our country. Who knows if we’d ever see the remainder.

I nodded toward the path again. On the last leg of their summit assault, a line of climbers emerged around a wind-swept thicket, their eyes covered by dark glasses, their faces covered in white zinc oxide sunscreen, their heads wrapped in woolen caps, their backs burdened by heavy backpacks, their footsteps measured in heavy boots. “Next to the tourists, they look like astronauts,” I whispered and then declared, “We’re enlisting in an environmentalist organization. The more militant, the better.”

We would also discover how little most Americans know of their own history. If knowledge is wealth, its lack imposes a price. The spider’s web connects many points, each one informing the other. Dinner has arrived. Or will, if one waits.

This invasion, too, will pass — I hoped.

The Cascades are aptly named, for creeks thread and lunge down precipices. The range drew its name from Celilo Falls in the Columbia River, a site now submerged by a hydroelectric dam. Nevertheless, we viewed milky threads everywhere on both sides of the Cascade Divide and realized our own thoughts cascade, too.

“Hey, you old Toad,” I teased. “Did you notice where the clouds broke away when we were coming up? Like, it was miserable back in Seattle but absolutely sunny by the time we get here. Where did it happen?”

He hadn’t noticed. We were finding the Pacific Northwest to be like that if you don’t pay attention. I drove the leg homeward through ever-drier timberland until trees themselves end without notice.

On this trip, we had tasted many points along a line to fill out later. The experience itself sent Todd back to his charts for verification and additional details. So this is how it fits together?

For more of the story, click here.

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