A month ago, my friend’s ankle hurt too much for a hike. Time plenty for a drive to see what’s there when things are better.
I have a screenplay idea where, in the seminal scene, the main character confronts the chasm at a bridge railing–like this one–and considers jumping. In the story, he looks back and sees the spectators clamoring behind the police lines, all of them wearing RayBan sunglasses–sunglasses like he has always worn. Something changes in him, and he reaches up, grips the sunglasses, and begins pulling them down to reveal his eyes. For the first time, he will see truly, and we will see him. Cut to black.
This bridge could be the story’s bridge.
I will share something uncomfortable, something nascent in the picture. For a moment, I imagine–in my body, viscerally–what it would be like to fly over and begin to fall. I realize my arms are more than strong enough–just take hold, bend the knees, a good jump–then over. It’s very clear–not an impulse, but imagination connecting with the possible. I grip the bars enough to cramp my hands. On the way back to the car I hug the inside, close to the road. I tell my friend. Her eyes open a little wider, but not as if this is a complete surprise.
I know we all feel this. Don’t step so close to the water; you could slip and fall. Safety is a blindness: rules to follow without thinking, intentionally so designed. No need to dwell on the worst case, just prevent it. Sometimes, when the light is right or the wind whispers, we can see the dark possibility.
But back to the pictures.
The West feels a need to give tribute to the Devil, yet isn’t this all God’s work? Like being on the bridge, I can imagine how some Nineteenth century explorer–equipped with metal canteens and hard tack, no maps, his most sophisticated instrument a telescope or a gun–would be overwhelmed by the West’s scale. There are no roads, no friendly neon green Sinclair stations. To us moderns who think we have tamed it, we don’t see the Devil they did or feel their need to use his name, hoping he will let us go safely by and not compel us to our own destruction.
It is beautiful.
Each tunnel leads to something more grand and irrelevant to human scale.
At the parking areas, signs explain the geographic features: uplift, faults, millions of years. A road cut slices through strata veined with magma, the greys shading to purple, flecked with metal. It seems like this has always been here, but it hasn’t. Tens of thousands of years ago, this parking lot was under a mile of ice.
This place is a melange of transitions: of time, space, climates and geographies. This is the top of the mixing bowl, where snow and rain still fall and the trees are green, but among the Douglas fir and hemlock are the drier pines, the scrubby brush. Keep going west and the Okanogan National Forest turns to the dry pines that fill so much of the inner West, the ground all dry needles and dust, fire a constant reality. Go back west toward home and everything is moss, bright green leaves, hay and violets.
Standing at the right spot in this viewpoint, the wind carries the sunbright scent of high snow, crisp as a folded sheet of paper. Or the musk of last year’s leaves under moss. Or from the east, sunbaked rock and the smell of an old fire’s ashes.
People are friendly, taking pictures, pointing. Moms and daughters lift each other onto the guardrail for pictures. Sunlight is warm.
The last few weeks I’ve spent Sundays with my friend, struggling with unwelcome crying spells, consumed by guilt and doubt risen from some deep place. I don’t know what to do or where it’s come from. Medication was supposed to help. I repeat myself and she is kind to listen. I am glad to have somewhere my child mind sees as safe.
Today is better, out in the mountains and the trees. The rushing water is saying something, the light soothing on the leaves. Everything is alive. There is life in the world yet.