GO WEST OLD MAN
by Max Barnet

DAY ELEVEN
Washington and Oregon


     At the large truck-stop restaurant near the interchange on I-5 we devour a Paul Bunyan breakfast. Our conversation borders on the erudite. We discuss the danger of overpopulating the world, the folly of not limiting our numbers, and the decline of quality of life by not doing so. We discuss the good and bad effects of technology, on the one hand improving our lot and on the other harming us when it becomes an end in itself.
      Visiting the men's room before leaving, I read among the wall graffiti, "Fuck off. Die all you faggots. I'll stay with pink pussy." Below a reply: "Amen." And below that, "Must have been a nigger wrote this." The walls speak, representing the moral level of the men who pass by here. Reading the walls I lose hope, at least for now.
      After breakfast Danny asks me to take the wheel on the road to Rainier. The mountain, standing silent, snow laden above all else, performing its own solitary show, is a hypnotic beacon. "It's more dramatic than the other great mountains I've seen," Danny says. "Even Whitney." Stopping at a viewing point off the highway, we stare at the blown away north-face of Mount St. Helens, thirty or forty miles off to the south. A swaying quilt of tall purple and white bell-shaped flowers covers the field below us. The sky is bright, the air sweet and bracing, the world a joy.
      When Rainier is nearer and larger, we pull off the road to absorb its grandeur and to photograph each other with the mountain as a backdrop. Soon the road slices through a shadowy forest of giant fir trees whose girth and height are comparable to those in Hoh. Remnants of snow survive in the shady spots. Zigzagging, the thin road climbs along ledges chiseled from the sheer mountain walls, occasionally widening just enough to allow parking for a view. We meet a couple from Paris traveling with their young children. He is tall, trim, smartly handsome; she is shining and freshly beautiful. We talk of the recent U.S. bombing of Libya, of which he heartily approved.
      "But your government objected to what we did," I say.
      "Officially, yes," he says in accented, precise English, "but it is not advertised that France really allowed the U.S. fighters to fly across the French Pyrenees on the way to Libya."
      Although skeptical of his claim, I remember when I was in Paris in May, a waiter commented that the French people admired Reagan's no-nonsense aggressiveness. And isn't that a reason why a majority of the American people voted for him too?
      Continuing the twisting climb, we are surrounded by a vast rim of snowy peaks, of which Ranier is the highest. We are traversing the nucleus of a great caldera.
      To think that Rainier is an afterthought, not in our original itinerary. And I conveniently forget my insistence that we plan every move in advance.
      "Rainier is a stupendous bonus, Danny," I say.
      "The unexpected isn't such a bad thing after all," he says, grinning.
      Touché, I think.
      "Agreed. Actually the unexpected is what makes life so interesting. Without it, life would be a bore."
      And the unexpected erupts everywhere. The scenery is outrageously mad; Rainier's rich green flanks rocket into a blue sulphate sky; jagged columns of rock claw the air with their snow mantled tips; Mount Adams's perfect cone pokes up in a surprise showing from behind lower heights; in deep, dusky verdant canyons, thin rivers of tinsel flash in the sun. All is beyond expectation, unexceeded in spectacle by any scenery we have witnessed so far.
      At the uncrowded circular visitor center we stare through plate glass at Rainier's many glaciers, at its mysterious, treacherously silent white summit. The literature says 2,500 people a year climb Rainier.
      "And why?" I ask.
      "Because it's there," we shout together.
      "Time to go, Dad. There's a lot more to see."
      This is the largest vertical mass I have set eyes upon. Spellbound, I must rip myself away. On the way down, drawn to look back, I watch Rainier's white-spattered east face bursting into the cobalt sky behind us. Rainier's scale - its sister mountains, the valleys, the vast walls of green - is greater than Glacier's or North Cascade's.
      The further we descend, the fatter and taller the trees become, the damper the air. Not to forget, to enjoy again, like a camera, my eyes take snapshots of a splash of tall, slender flowers, a dappled forest of gigantic fir trees, a carpet of chartreuse moss. A deer with two fawns bound across the road. We are happy with this world.
      We pass Rim Rock Lake, formed by a dam, a large, long expanse of calm green water imprisoned between high wooded hills. We are headed for Yakima, Washington.
      "Are there yaks in Yakima?" Danny wonders.
      "Oh, no," I reply, "but there are kimas there. Say, are we or aren't we still going downhill?"
      "Gosh, Dad, can't you see we're level, staying with the lake."
      "That proves nothing. Hell, the lake could be going downhill."
      Oh, yes, we are. We are most pleased with this world.
      I am pleased with my son, with his company, with my love for him.
      "This is a true transcontinental pickup truck," Danny says fondly. "She's crossed the country back and forth."
      "Yup. You're amazing. At your tender age, you've traveled the face of the earth. What remains now is to travel within yourself."
      "I think we had a fascinating breakfast conversation this morning," says Danny.
      "Well, I do too."
      "In your journal are you going to reveal that I'm all fucked up?" he asks.
      "No one will know. I'll use a fake name, a nom de plume. Hey, why don't I call myself Norman Daplume?"
      We are free spirits gliding down Route 12 beside a white- water river laughing together. Our mood is outrageously silly.
      "We've lisped in Twisp, and pissed in Pyscht. As with a Toyota, could we ask for anything more?"
      Life this very moment is full as we enter a fresh new world. It is a high desert of barren hillsides and columns of basalt carved from an ancient lava bed - the result of a great explosion eons ago when a cone that existed blew apart and became the caldera of which Rainier is a part. Layers of congealed lava tower a thousand feet above us. Groves of deciduous trees pack the valley between barren brown and light orange basalt hillsides. Cylinders of basalt are definable in the high cliff walls. The earthscape bares its soul; the violence of its history is like a frozen shout.
      Finding my hat soaking wet in the rubble behind the seat, I think, God, what a slob Danny is. The stashing area behind our seats is a mess. The sleeping section is a mess. When seeking something, he throws things about, increasing the disorder and making me uncomfortable. But again, knowing how fragile his self-esteem is, I hold back, say nothing.
      To keep track of my possessions I conduct periodic searches, for nothing remains where I last deposited it. My hat got soaked when he tossed his leaking water bottle into the stashing area. Diplomatically I tell him how important order is, especially in business. He claims to know where everything is, that what is disorder to me is not so to him, that it's all a point of view. It's an argument I know I won't win.
      "What do you know? Apple orchards in the high desert." And on a bountiful flat green strip along the Yakima River grape vineyards thrive.
      Intriguing are the colorful names of western towns and counties: Gleed, Selah, Klickitat County, Walla Walla, and, earlier on the way to Rainier, Mossy Rocky. Here's Horse Heaven Hills.
      "Where all dead horses go," I say, feebly attempting to be funny.
      Around us the low hills are brown, yellow, and dry. From U.S. 97, white-splotched Rainier sixty to seventy miles away ascends into the clear horizon. We see the whole mountain and make out the tree line. Whereas the sky was unsullied blue when we were there, now in the late morning, clouds hover over the broad peak. Truly, Rainier makes its own weather.
      We arrive in Toppenish. Seeing that our gas gauge reads two-thirds empty, I suggest we stop for gas.
      "We won't encounter any large towns for about two hundred miles and small towns usually charge more. Here the price is right: ninety-five cents a gallon."
      "I think we stop too often," says Danny in annoyance. "You want to stop even when we're half full."
      "Hell, you're the one who suggests most of the stops - for viewing, and at fruit stands," I counter. "You make these stops to smoke because you know I won't allow it in the cab." A silence falls between us, the false calm of a storm brewing.
      At 1:30 in the afternoon, tooling along US 97 through Satus Pass, a wooded height in the desert, Danny suggests we take any random road off the highway in search of a place to picnic.
      "No," I say. "Better a roadside rest or a public picnic area."
      "Why not?" he fumes. "It's more fun to get off the beaten path."
      "A road off the highway would probably be private out here. I don't like invading private property."
      "I do it often. I don't bother anybody and no one bothers me."
      The atmosphere in the truck cab is thick with tension. After driving in angry silence for a short while, Danny pulls into a state camping area, an oasis. Will it be an oasis for our emotions too? Danny sets up his small gas camping stove on the tailgate, but he can't find his lighter in the chaos behind the truck seat. Although tempted to rub it in, I withhold commenting. Yes, I admit he's not totally disorganized. And maybe he'll improve by the time he's back in his own business, else he'll pay dearly. Maybe he'll eventually see the advantage of keeping things orderly. Finally, finding a book of matches elsewhere he lights the stove and boils water for soup.
      During lunch we have it out again. Danny won't drop it.
      "You have a closed mind, Dad."
      "I repeat, I don't like going down strange roads or trespassing on private property.
      Furthermore we can't afford detours because I thought we agreed that we'd try to cover as much ground as possible today. Tomorrow should be more leisurely. Didn't we plan it that way because we expect to be up late tomorrow night with our friends in Davis? Anyway, I figured a campground or rest area would show up."
      "Which proves you aren't adventuresome," he says arrogantly. "I gave in to you since I knew a state park was coming up from looking at the map."
      "Well, I missed it on the map. But don't you think this is a pleasant place, better than some chance spot where we might be intruding?"
      "We wouldn't be intruding. It's a big, empty land."
      Seeing we are at a stalemate, my anger mounts, especially at his persistence. In a long shouting harangue, I voice my disgust with his general disorder.
      "In our small quarters what you call disorder is unavoidable," he answers coldly. "And I've told you I know where everything is."
      "Like a squirrel looking for last season's nuts after an earthquake," I say.
      "What's the harm in it? Why does it get to you so?"
      "For one thing, didn't my hat get soaked?"
      "Are you blaming me for that? How can you prove I'm responsible?" His voice has a controlled cold edge to it, his outward appearance is contained. That's his way with anger. In contrast I become excited and loud.
      "Not specifically, except I know it's a result of your disdain for neatness. Look, I suggest we end this. It's getting us no place. We're at an impasse. We'll never see eye to eye. Let's drop it once and for all."
      I walk away; the rift becomes physical. Yards apart, each of us eats painfully by himself. We end lunch with fresh cherries, pears, and nuts. On returning to the cab, he searches again for his lost lighter and admits sheepishly that the place behind the seats is a mess. His manner is conciliatory.
      Leaving the park, we suddenly see cone-shaped, snow-covered Mount Hood looming straight ahead through the trees about sixty miles distant.
      "Mount Hood looks more like Fuji, he says.
      For the first time we see the beginning of the mountain string. Framing the horizon north and south in a single view, we see flat-topped Mount Adams (12,700 feet) and pyramid-shaped Mount Hood (11,200 feet).
      In response to Danny's revised attitude, I decide to thrash out the gas-buying episode. "I want to apologize for Toppenish. I should have spoken less sharply. I got mad when you ignored my suggestion to stop and just kept driving on. As I said, I knew we'd have to pay more for gas in the smaller towns down the line. It's the same old planning-ahead syndrome rearing it's ugly head again. Danny, I had sensible reasons for opposing you. But I want your friendship and love."
      Figuratively we kissed and made up and felt good again.
      A considerable distance downstream from our last transit, we cross the Columbia River for the third and last time. From our barren hilly height, a smooth new road winds to a high, graceful white concrete bridge. Looking down river from the bridge, we are stunned by the sight of snowy Mount Hood rising above a golden hill. A long line of semi-trailer trucks crawling the up-grade into the smooth hills on the south side of the river slows our entrance into Oregon. Fields of brilliant golden wheat, silhouetted against a deep blue heaven, greet us as we climb. The rolling hills embracing the highway are a patchwork of russet, dark green, pale green, and yellow. Portions of the enormous rich brown earth are freshly planted.
      Near Grass Valley the mountains line up again: in one vista from south to north, the magnificent white hulks of Jefferson, Hood, Adams, and Rainier, pierce the horizon. A film of high, thin clouds coats the light blue sky.
      The names of Oregon's towns are also picturesque: Biggs, Wasco, Grass Valley, Shaniko (population 40), Terrebonne, Bend.
      The cultivated land gives way to desert. Adding to the lineup, North Sister shows on the horizon poking above the chaparral. We cross the 45th parallel, the halfway point between the equator and the North Pole.
      "It feel's different already," I joke. The strain has disappeared; humor is back and welcome. Pausing at a "snow-cap identifier stop," a brass marker in concrete, in the desert just below the 45th, we join some tourists to view the entire lineup: Rainier, Adams, Mount St. Helens, Hood, Jefferson, Three Finger Jack, Washington, Three Sisters, Broken Top.
      We congratulate ourselves on taking Route 97, another uncommonly fortuitous choice (Route 2 in North Dakota was the other), for we had no idea it would be so breathtaking, so rich in color, topography, fragrance, drama.
      Farther south, approaching Madras, the land is a patchwork crop of green against the immense backdrop of Mount Jefferson and the Three Sisters. Everywhere irrigation geysers swirl their watery nebulae across the hot fields. The clouds are thickening; the air is fiery and dry. In recent days we have played the radio and tapes less often. Perhaps it's a distraction and we'd rather absorb the changing scenery unadulterated by other sensations. Despite our differences, our petty crises, I feel, in sharing our experience, Danny and I are also developing an intense new closeness.
      Below Madras a pungent odor wafts from the dark green fields into our scorching, breeze-filled cab.
      "It smells like tomatoes," I yell above the wind beating in our ears. "Look, tomato plants growing."
      Beyond the flat cultivated fields to our left are the arid desert slopes of low hills; to our right in the faraway distance is a hazy blue mountain range, broken by Jefferson's white peak and the Three Sisters. Near Redmond, a high bridge crosses a deep, narrow canyon; a blue streak of water courses through its bed.
      "I don't see this on the map," I complain.
      "Let's write Rand McNally, inform them it's here," Danny suggests.
      This evening a KOA (in Bend, Oregon) has never been more welcome. We are exhausted from an overfull day. The campground, located right off the highway on a grassy flat, has a grocery store, gas station, extensive shower facility, and phones. By 7:00 P.M. the hot breeze becomes tolerable. On an air-conditioned verandah at a nearby Steak & Brew, we have a dinner of top sirloin steak for $7.95 - my first beef in a year of almost vegetarianism - and all the beer we can drink. Relaxed, loosened by the beer, Danny and I talk freely.
      "I think I know why my self-esteem is so low," he confesses. "I think it's because I'm two people with two conflicting forces within myself. My inner being has assumed a kind of dichotomy. And I'm this way because my parents are in conflict and represent two ways of behaving. You're aggressive and Ma's submissive."
      "Do you really think your mother is so passive?"
      "Well, sometimes she is and sometimes she isn't. When it comes down to it, she's a pretty resolute woman."
      The subject is engrossing, our talk zealous.
      "Am I really that aggressive?"
      "Sometimes yes, sometimes, no."
      "Under my bluster, you would probably find a secretly passive man."
      "Possibly, possibly."
      "I think in therapy you'll find out whether you're right or not," I say encouragingly. "I'm sure you'll find some surprises on the road to self-discovery."
      Convinced that he doesn't know what he thinks, I hold back saying that I think all his talk is intellectualizing, that he's seeking superficial answers as a substitute for the deeper truth.
      During my turn in the shower room (while Danny guards our gear), I overhear two men in conversation.
      "I'm from North Carolina, Raleigh. Where you from?" The voice is young.
      "Around here."
      "We've been traveling across the country for more than a month."
      "Yeah? I'm not traveling far. How long you staying?"
      "Couple days. Looking to put down roots out here. Heard there's enormous opportunity."
      "Yeah, what do you do?"
      "Electronics technician. Raleigh's getting crowded. Too much traffic, too much development. There are more Ph.D.s in Raleigh than anywhere else in the world. If you don't have a Ph.D. forget it."
      "Whatcha gonna do here?"
      "Get out of analogue and into digital. Computers, you know."
      "Yeah, that's the coming thing."
      I chuckle to myself: Hasn't the computer industry long since reached maturity?
      "Well, you know analogue. FM. It's over. Know what FM means? Fuckin' magic."
      "Ha, ha. Good luck."
      "Sure thing. You too."
      I feel sad yet hopeful for the young voice. Another young man having it rough. Since both men leave before I open the door to my stall, I never see them. But the voices are enough.
      While Danny showers and I'm alone at our grassy campsite guarding the gear, I sit at a nearby picnic table writing in the journal. I observe a young woman at the site next door labor at setting up a pyramidal pup tent. Soon her husband, returning from his ablutions, struggles to finish the job. Her face turns blue as she attempts and fails to blow up an air mattress. Her husband tries, has no better luck, and gives up.
      Meanwhile a middle-aged couple with a garish motorbike dragging a small trailer make camp across the way. They install a fancy tent over the trailer and establish a small kitchen of elegant chrome cooking devices on the lawn. Offering beers to the inept couple next door, they say they are Canadians, old hands at traveling, having recently covered more than five thousand miles since leaving Halifax, Nova Scotia, where they were caught in rain for five days. The couple next door confess that this is their first camping trip. No kidding, say the Canadians. No kidding, think I.
      I must sort out my thoughts about Danny. I realize he has hurt me by stubbornly attacking what I am. "I am closed minded. I am not adventuresome." He fights nasty. Still, no doubt he is right, no doubt I miss many opportunities. I'm not against reforming myself: Indeed my own road less traveled has led me to consider new ways of behavior.
      Haven't I, in arguing with Danny, defended my decisions and desires strictly on a rational basis? Wouldn't his disorderly ways have more serious negative consequences someday? Under no circumstances have I criticized what he is, only what he does that interferes with my comfort and well being. Yet he may have taken my obstinacy as a personal attack. I find this very sad. He is often too insecure for me to deal with.
      I had dreaded the trip from the very beginning. The sights I have seen have surpassed my imagination, but what I see in Danny I'd rather not have seen at all.

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