Wednesday, April 7, 2021
After Paul left for the gym I headed out for a long drive in Dark Star. After a quick stop at Powell’s Books in Cedar Hills (to pick up a copy of the new Richard Thompson memoir—just published) I drove out Highway 26 and up Highway 47, the latter a road I had not yet navigated. By that time the weather was cold and windy, and I sensed rain approaching. It’s Oregon, I thought. What else is new?
The drive, the road, the weather, the time behind the wheel—all of that was the essential experience of being physically unrestricted, able to move easily, wherever I wanted to go. I was elated because it seemed a harbinger of my upcoming post-pandemic life—not so much the drive, rather once again the observation of my own life voyage. I’ve missed that freedom and my long road trips back to California and explorations elsewhere.
I stopped at L.L. Stub Stewart State Park— not a big place. It’s another one of those nooks in the crannies of Oregon. There were a few folks concealed inside their RV’s—and I thought of what Paul would have said: “that’s not camping, not if you’re going to hide indoors all the time.”
I got out of the car at the top of a hill and walked to a picnic table. Leaning against it I regarded uncut wooded hills, a plume of smoke, the overcast sky, and felt cold gusts of wind. There was no one around except for a grey-haired, elderly woman getting into a black Prius with her quiet terrier. For a moment I felt the ordinary veil of consciousness disperse, and wham-bam the emotion of being alive was there—present, and impossible to ignore —not that I would have avoided it because I long for it. I search for it. All I could say was “thank you,” which I did, and which no one could hear except for God, Great Spirit—whatever you want to call it—and a few crows hopping on the grass, searching for grubs.
Driving further up Highway 47—little towns—places that still depend upon timber extraction. Vernonia, just 2100 people, not far from Portland (I was home in two hours) but thousands of miles away in terms of the who-what-where-when-how of my own existence. North of town the hills were denuded of trees. At one point a sign proudly declared “replanted in 2018” on a stretch of land that even three years later looks as if it was clear-cut yesterday. My excursion along that road as an afternoon of getting away from my slowly receding lockdown suddenly became the hard and cold reality of visualizing history and perhaps the end of the world—doom-thoughts about climate change.
I continued up 47 through Mist (the town name is descriptive) to Highway 30 and then decided to drive over the Longview Bridge to I-5 and home. Back in 2018 Finn and I went up Highway 30 in July—a trip to Astoria on a hot day when the air conditioning had crapped out in Turbo Woody, and I saw the Longview Bridge stretching over the Columbia River, strangely built “way up in the middle of the air” as if it was on stilts. It was designed by Joseph Strauss of Golden Gate Bridge fame.
I wanted to drive over it that day three years ago, but I was escaping the heat of Portland with no cool air in the car and wanted to see Astoria to recall the time that JS and I went through there in 1977. Today I crossed the bridge while surrounded and hemmed in by truck traffic—many of the trailers hauling logs to the port in Longview, Washington—where they were destined to be cut or shipped, I have no idea which. I was reminded of the continual harvest of natural resources, and stripped mountains.
I drove my fossil fueled car over that elegant 80-year-old bridge on my way home to comfort, food, and warmth. 170 total miles. No photography, just the drive. There was one treacherous, rainy moment on I-5 when a serious white out condition materialized, but I moved into the slow lane and cut my speed way down. I still get a little freaked out by that kind of weather since my accident in Woody way back in 2002. Now the driver-assist functions of Subaru Eyesight reduce the stress considerably.
It’s all too much, this “further up, further in” C.S. Lewis stuff here in the Pacific Northwest corner of America. A region far removed from my previous geography and yet not distant from the memories of my previous life embedded in the neurons that make up my cerebral cortex and that also provide me with the consciousness that makes me say “thank you….” Yet all of it is temporary.
All that in a few hours, in this new geography—another taste of a land that I still do not know intimately. How long will it take for the Pacific Northwest to feel as familiar as my old home and its dry hills and oak trees? Will it ever? There is still so much to see, and time is short—but my wandering will always continue.
Notes on the text:
- Paul is my brother. He and I often travel together.
- Richard Thompson’s new memoir Beeswing is a must for anyone who is a fan of his music. One of the great singer/songwriters/guitarists of our time.
- Finn was my greyhound and loyal companion for many years. He passed away in February of 2020, just before the pandemic began.
- JS is my old amigo, John Schettler.
- “I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now…Come further up, come further in!” The Last Battle, C.S. Lewis