When people die we remember all the meaningful moments we had with them, even if we didn’t know them well, and when beautiful places die we do the same thing.
As the horrible Eagle Creek fire destroys the Columbia River Gorge, I remember the last time I was there, and what I felt, and how meaningful it was. I almost blogged about it at the time, because it was such a beautiful experience, but then it was the end of my very last term of college and blogging fell off the priority list.
At the end of last May I went to my cousin’s wedding in Michigan, and then road-tripped home with my brother Ben and my cousin Derek. We left after lunch on Sunday, drove straight through the night, and arrived home Monday evening.
Minnesota, South Dakota, and Montana were pleasant enough, although I must admit I slept through a great deal of it. Scrubby at times, perhaps, but at least the temperature was fine. And then we descended into the desert of eastern Washington. What a ghastly place it was that day. Barren, and a thick blanket of heat that my poor failing air conditioner couldn’t begin to combat. We opened windows, and the hot air moved, but didn’t cool us. I spread newspapers over my lap because they absorbed less heat than my black skirt.
But though we were hot, tired, and travel weary, with un-brushed teeth and rumpled clothing, we held out hope for the gorge. Maybe, when we got to Oregon, it would be cooler.
We got closer and closer, and then, as we crossed the bridge into Oregon, across the Columbia River, I felt it. A cool breeze. A cool breeze drifting over the water and into my soul, just for me. All of the sudden life was, again, something manageable.
We drove along I-84 with our windows down. The hot desert was replaced by trees of all species and sizes, and the blue of the Columbia river, and the cool breezes that drifted into our windows.
There was a car accident on I-84, creating a traffic jam, so we zipped off at the nearest exit and drove along the Columbia River Highway for a while.
The Columbia River Highway was the first road through the gorge I believe, but as it was just a regular little road, Interstate 84 was built parallel to it when more and more people began traveling through. I-84, though it has beautiful views, is very much still an ugly man-made rode. The Columbia River Highway, on the other hand, looks like it grew out of the mountain, with trees growing right up alongside the road, and little stone walls instead of guardrails, with moss growing through the cracks.
There was a traffic jam here, too, but I didn’t care because in the shade of the abundant trees, everything was cool and beautiful. Inching along, we soon began to see that this traffic jam was caused, not by overflow traffic from the I-84 accident, but by the giant crowds of people who had come to Multnomah Falls for Memorial Day. The parking lots were filled and overflowing, and people were parked along the side of the road, narrowing it so much that only one lane of people could drive by at a time.
And when we did get a chance to drive by, it didn’t feel like driving down a road, it felt like driving through someone’s yard while they’re hosting their annual neighborhood BBQ. There were people everywhere, and as we inched through them and tried not to hit anybody, I leaned out my window and watched the tall, tall waterfall and felt like I was part of the same grand party.
Multnomah Falls is a funny place. I’ve gone there countless times, and once I even blogged about going, but sometime between my childhood and now it went from being a pretty place to being a TREnDy place, and now it’s splashed across Instagram and always overcrowded. However, once we were past Multnomah and driving down the road like it was a road, again, we passed waterfall after waterfall that were probably just as beautiful, but no one seemed to know about them.
We twisted and turned around the mountains, past waterfalls, over bridges, always under the deep green canopy. And there were views, always views around this corner or that, of the wide river. And such a cool breeze, after that abysmal heat! A simple concept, but there are no words to describe what it does to your soul.
And I thought that I would treasure this forever. I took a few pictures with my phone, because I wanted to remember. I never edited or Instagrammed them, and they didn’t begin to capture the beauty, but I still get an inch of that feeling back when I look at them.
They say to tell your loved ones that you love them, because in the blink of an eye, they could be gone. It never occurred to me that places could be the same way. That one day, a fire might destroy these trees, and it would never again look quite like it did that day.
I don’t know what the gorge will look like after this fire.