American Sabbatical 029: 10/9/96
10/9/96.. YES. All the way across!
There was mist lying on Lake Roosevelt, and a ruddy light painting the canyon walls above Coulee City, when the Festivites got up to cook their porridge. After our experiences with road food, well jump at any chance we get to cook for ourselves, but were still a little too tender to camp again, so a housekeeping motel room was just the ticket. And its tourist class. Weve been reminded on the road that theres a two-tier economy on the roadside, as elsewhere in the land of expense accounts. The word Inn is a clue. Expect to pay twice as much, and park next to Mercedes, at the Inns. At the momandpop motels you often can cook for yourselves. There are risks, of course, and at the edge of exhaustion its easier to pull into the downscale chain flops (Super8, Motel6) than scratch and sniff down bedbug row. But last night we lucked into a lowrent dandy, and cooked up a storm (soyburger with peas and couscous), then did a Scots breakfast. Up your kilt.
Purring with brogue, we fulfilled our promise to drive across
the top of Grand Coulee Dam, and its even more astounding up
close (without lasers). Nobody seemed to mind us hanging a U-turn
and stopping to play with Olympus, but we tiptoed off quickly
after we looked over the edge. Pacific waters, next stop.
But we fetched-up short on the edge of Coulee City when we spotted
a civic memorial to Papa Gertz, the Whirlygigger of Washington.
Folks, the town fathers out here recognize great art and character.
I mean they RECOGNIZE it. Or at least fence it in. There on the
outskirts of town was a chainlink-fenced collection of found-object
whirlygigs (maybe 50 of them), along with lurid-color planters
made of old washing machines (with agitator stands, a beautiful
touch). Papa Gertz also concocted human figures out of welded
junk, who posed about the park.
Sad to say, the genius locus himself has passed on, and some of
the gigs have fallen into disrepair. A plastic doll riding a carousel-horse
giggle has lost everything from the waist up, and other gruesome
gaps were noted. Shouldn't there be a federal arts grant to restore
and maintain this exhibition, or corporate sponsorship from GE?
The pure inspiration of all these chrome and enamel gizmos clattering
and squealing in the Columbia wind, in this place, where mans
hubris has channeled a billion waterhorses into rotating power,
was not lost on us, and we giggled off into the west.
Protecting the Arts
Across the Coulee
Straight up the Grand Coulee itself. Lawrence of Arabia, in The
Seven Pillars Of Wisdom, describes the spiritual impact of the
Valley of Rhum, and some of his eloquence could apply to the Grand
Coulee. Sheer volcanic cliffs of umber and burnt sienna, standing
above sloping talus bases, line a drowned valley maybe five miles
across. This is a containment lake for irrigation waters from
the big dam, and a sight to behold. The highway descends into
this deep stone trough, containing Coulee Lake, and runs alongside
the water for 25 miles. The dark overshadowing heights to our
left were pierced with slanting shafts of light, as jutting cliffs
behind cliffs receded down our view. We stopped open-mouthed to
try and paint, and a hawk came and hunted in the grass before
The rest of our passage across the drylands of Washington was
anti-climax. We climbed out of the coulee and onto the arid volcanic
grasslands again, some irrigated into rich wheat farms, the rest
lying fallow in haunting gray bunch-grasses, or the wicked sage.
There are stretches of the western Columbia Plateau that are flatsyourpalm,
bye. And outbreaks of bony badlands that are hard on the hosses.
They must raise enough wheat on the plateau to make bread for
the whole world, but we couldnt find a local bakery to save our
stomachs. Finally a general storekeeper took pity on strangers,
and sold me some slices from her cafe loaf. (They had espresso,
of course, this IS Washington).
Then we tipped over and down into the basin of the Columbia one
last time. The smell of apples rose in our faces. Along the green
intervales weaving between parched khaki hills, an apple kingdom
drinks from the Columbia. We followed signs to a riverside park,
sidestepped the gooseshit, and sat with the gulls by the river
to eat our soyburger sandwiches. Yum. We topped it off with a
pitstop at a orchard stand for cherry cider and fresh fruit. Mercy:
back in the fruits and veggies again.
Contented, barreling along in the dry Courtland breeze, we crossed
the mighty Columbia at the Wenatchee Confluence, and started climbing
into the Cascades. Alongside us stepped terrace after terrace
of ripe orchards full of migrant workers, dancing on aluminum
ladders. Pomologist heaven. Unleavened sunshine, volcanic soil,
and all the water you can pump. Young women driving 18-wheel flatbeds
piled high with appleboxes, Spanish accents in the air, and glistening
fruit to the mountain walls.
Up the Wenatchee we meandered, and the earth heaved and thrust
its angles in the air. The Columbia Plateau is a humongus glob
of volcanic flow (or flows) lying flat on central Washington,
but the Cascades are crumpled, folded, and jammed up into the
sky, much like the alps. Too much like the alps. We stumbled into
an inter-continental space-warp as we ascended into Leavenworth.
Yah. It is a Bavarian outlet-haus and alpin-mall. Set in a Swiss
postcard valley, Leavenworth was wall-to-wall tourists in a shopping
frenzy. Octoberfest in the Cascades among faux-chalets. When we
pulled into a parking lot to take pictures an attendant in lederhosen
rushed out to collect his fee. We drove on.
The east slopes of the Cascades are still partially in rain shadow
(although the surging blue-green Wanatchee lived up to the cascade
label), and the woods have a hiwestern feel, but hardwoods are
mixing in, and the mingled colors on the heights are playful.
And there sure are a lot of big trees out here. Spruce, pine,
cedar, fir, all chasing the clouds. And a lot of them highballing
down the road. The east-west arteries are all major, and there
arent any cross-connects. Its run with the logger traffic or
walk. So we got in step and convoyed up and over. 10-4.
You could almost believe in cataclysmic orogeny, staring at the
jagged peaks, knuckles, knobs, and thrusts up there. We had descended
to 2000 feet on the Pacific slope, but Mt. Index was still gesturing
at 5979, four grand above us. Talk about mythic finger-pointing.
And trees. Dense, tangled, lush, looming hardwoods. We were coming
down into it. The great northwestern coastal stew.
We broke out of the high hills at Monroe, into suburban malls, gridlock highways, diesel fumes and humidity. O glorious humidity. Hot, sticky, smutchy, wonderful sauna-like humidity. A whole new world.
And our momentum blew us all the way into Everett. Everett? It was due west. Our connection in Seattle had gone awry, our next port of call was off Vancouver, and Everett was the closest saltwater these two sailors could get at. We kept our noses to the dash compass through all the highway jigs and one-way jags of scenic industrial Everett, until we fetched up next to the City Sanitation Plant , looking onto the Naval Destroyer Base, hard-by the log loading docks, on the shore of Puget Sound. The Olympic Mountains framed the sunset. Not open Pacific yet, but the briny slosh just the same.
I hobbled down to the no access, entry prohibited, do not even
think of it, waters edge, took the striped dog whelk shell I
had picked up at Popham Beach seven weeks ago from my pocket,
and hurled it as far out as I could throw. Then I spat in the
Is this it then? Pilgrims travel to the far side of their dreams,
only to end up in the wrong place, with their friends gone, and
all the good sites staked out? Is Everett the end of noble ambitions?
Why, its just like its namesake in Massachusetts. Somehow I hadnt
expected people. High spruce-clad mountains standing down to an
idyllic shore. A totem pole or two, maybe. Not stripmalls, subdivisions,
and a Navy town.
We found a cheap motel on the strip, with a dubious clientele, and bedding that smells of smoke (in non-smoking), and another whiny dial tone that our modem wont speak to. Here we sit, washed up on the other shore.. but out the window a shining volcanic peak is covered with snow, reminding us that the hills of dreams are still there. Tomorrow we head north to Galiano Island.