A TUNNEL OF COLD REALITY

I stopped to explore a tunnel that had been a major hazard on the Canyon Highway until the highway department finally bypassed it. “It must have been only wide enough for one-way traffic at any time,” I observed one Sunday afternoon on the drive back to my apartment.

“They used to have traffic lights at each end,” Erik replied, repeating a story heard many times.

“Wow, I’m glad we don’t have to use it any more. Look at all these huge rocks that have fallen from the ceiling!”

The bypassed asphalt was covered with boulders bigger than our VW Beetle.

It isn’t the only tunnel in the canyon. Some, the siphons, carry irrigation water through mountains. Every year somebody rafting the river is swept through one and drowns. In accord with Far West tradition — and bloated political leverage — the railroad long ago claimed the choicest spots along the narrow river passage. As a consequence, the highway twists a lot. When there’s little traffic, this can be a sporty drive.

Our alternate route was longer but faster — miles traded for time. The freeway opened out into marvelous vistas. As we came to know each roadway, we anticipated the coming views.

“Think Mount Stuart will be visible around the next curve?” he’d ask.

“No, it’s too cloudy.” Then, detecting a solitary crag ripping through a dramatic storm, I’d recant. Sometimes both Rainier and Adams stared like brothers with heads at table level. Watching for cattle and sheep, we viewed foxes and deer.

In winter, freezing rain or drifting snow often forced the state to close the expressway. Even when that highway stayed open, its surface could be treacherous.

Everywhere I turned, once I was out of the orchards and well beyond town, I could see all too clearly, this was the kind of place you could leave somebody to die.

Or be left to die.

For more of the story, click here.

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YET, I’VE NEVER RETURNED

Another factor is that I’ve never even returned to Washington State

Or other situations I’ve loved too much

It’s not that I haven’t had familiar places of return, but rather that they are now rooted in my heart, more than my eye. In how many intense experiences, maybe she, too, confesses of some desire to return to familiar spaces — especially those we shared before parting? Whoever she is anymore. My quest for the spirit or soul leads, indeed, to somewhere in the mud or dust.

~*~

I, who am usually quite restless, now admit, somewhat reluctantly, to having entered a settling. What happened to the desire to travel and explore? Now, come the weekend or a vacation, I prefer to stay close to home. Perhaps some of this can be attributed to the long daily commute, or even to those two years spent largely on the road covering fourteen states as a sales representative. Perhaps some of this also reflects the fact that I’ve had twenty-four addresses in eight states over the course of my life. Once, in the span of a single year, there were four addresses in three states. Maybe I simply want to feel rooted.

Even if I had the time and the money to travel, I feel a greater need to write or to work on projects around the house. Being a homeowner, after so many years of renting, also shifts my focus: a tour around the garden, observing its detailed changes, rather than a trek up a mountain.

I think of places I’ve dwelled in and experienced intensely, though it’s now unlikely I’ll ever return, except in memory. From satellite photos, I finds that many, including the ashram, no longer exist.

Other places I’ve visited intensely, if only once or twice, like the Olympics or cross-country spurts in a rented truck, may be savored a lifetime.

I live in a rich environment, one many consider a travel destination. I reside within a half hour of Maine beaches, sparkling lakes or forest trails, and slightly more than an hour from Boston. Even in my own small city, I sometimes catch a glimpse of the fantasy — a movie on a screen or a postcard. What am I doing driving or even singing in a chorus along the Charles River or the Public Garden of Boston? What am I doing beside a waterfall in the mountains? How is it that I am worshipping in a Colonial-era meetinghouse? To be in places of dreams, then, or the pages of a travel magazine. How seldom do I find a moment to enjoy this or to explore a bit more? Obligations press. Even so, maybe I’ve arrived in my destination.

Time, then, becomes part of the journey. And who can reenter time once it’s passed?

For more insights from the American Far West and Kokopelli, click here.

RETURNING TO THE TREES

For me, the act of walking is a way of slowing down, to live at a more manageable pace. I’ve had good friends who have used running as their way of release from daily tensions, but I felt myself already speeding over too many details. I forget too much; exactly what did she say, much less mean? Write me a note so I’ll remember. Walking, then, becomes a time for observing and recollection. (So I often carry a small notebook when I go. Stop, scribble a word or phrase, and move on.)

How much of this grows out of my Boy Scout experiences? I was a member of a troop that prided itself in monthly long hikes and primitive camping. Looking back, I realize how many of those hikes began at their church in the city and wound out along railroad tracks or river levees; how many, too, wound up at the end of city bus lines. Not exactly high wilderness, but enough to instill a flavor, even close to home. Today, though, none of those hikes would get beyond suburban sprawl. I could contrast it, of course, against the week of backpacking on the Appalachian Trail or compass courses through the forest around Lake Vesuvius or in the bluegrass country of Daniel Boone settlement. Our scoutmaster, a toolmaker of mangled grammar and childlike sentimentality, conveyed his love of birds and trees and the land. How could one forget the outing that began with a field trip where a coal company proudly demonstrated how it leveled forest for strip mining and how its Big Bertha shovel filled a truck with each bite into the earth, only to be countered later in the day by time planting seedling pine in the pavement-like clay left behind, hoping that in another century, true forest might reappear, though never in a state approaching what had been destroyed. I carry that lesson whenever I enter forest.

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