It starts with the Columbia River Gorge, with its eons of earth’s history staring you in the face. It’s good for a person, I think, to be near the layers upon layers of earth cut through by glaciers and floods thousands of years before. It says, you are small. You didn’t make this world. Bigger forces are at work here. Enjoy them.
We sing “Roll On, Columbia, Roll On,” the propaganda song the Bonneville Power Company taught every elementary school child in the Pacific Northwest in the 1980s. We remember the words like it was yesterday. “Your power is turning our darkness to dawn, so roll on, Columbia, roll on.”
As we finish the refrain, the hills on the horizon begin to be more brown than green, with crisp, white wind turbines dotted along their shoulders. Gradually, the desert takes over. Moments before, the water and everything it created — the canyons and ponds, the dams and their power company marketing teams who wrote songs for schoolchildren to sing — was all there was. Now, water comes only through painstaking work.
We pass long, shiny structures hovering over the wheat fields. They stretch for miles, endless spines on spokes jutting toward the ground. They look menacing and somehow extremely old and decidedly futuristic all at once. Like the long-dead skeletons of gigantic metal snakes.
We drive on. Here, the amber waves of grain actually do wave in the wind. Besides the crops, the only thing is the highway. It winds around bends and stretches straight into the distance and becomes a tether to keep us from being swallowed into the fields. Without it, there would be no landmarks to navigate by. Except maybe those enormous, metal bones. We’d be wandering a graveyard until we dried out, like the mega-snakes must have.
A little further on, scrubby grey-green pines creep into the landscape. They’re low and hearty and undisturbed by the wind and the rushing cars and the birds of prey circling above.
And then, all of a sudden, the trees just reappear. The evergreens seem to multiply, and then we’re just about there. Toph solemnly says the town name, “Rathdrum,” as we pass the sign, and Charlie and I dutifully respond, “Rathdrum.” None of us acknowledges it, but it’s a leftover inside joke from years ago. Toph was driving and asked Charlie which exit he should take. The following conversation is, word-for-word, what ensued all those years ago:
Toph: Which exit do I take?
Toph (as if she spoke Martian): Rath? Drum?
Charlie (matter-of-fact): Rathdrum.
Toph (unsure): …Rathdrum.
Charlie (exasperated): Rathdrum!
Toph (resigned): Okay. Rathdrum.
Charlie (quietly): Rathdrum.
Toph (even more quietly): Rathdrum.
We pass the corner store at the turn-off to the cabin, and I notice the sign out front says “Open till dark,” because that’s the only kind of time you need to keep at the lake. I smile and think, we’re about to have the best week ever.