A heat wave in Vermont. The air heavy with humidity, the early morning sun hot. The woods cool, shade beckoning, a very slight breeze. Late last night a cold outdoor shower under the stars, luminescent fireflies all around, nature’s fireworks. The lavender and creeping thyme in fragrant bloom, reaching for the sun and the heat. Everything else wilted, me included.
Only a little over a week ago, a drive through a cool snow flurry in the Cascade Mountains. Heading east into Oregon, through the Columbia River Byway, an inadvertent stumble onto a historic stretch of the old Route 30, modeled after the great scenic roads of Europe. A roadway envisioned to take full advantage of all the natural beauty along the route – streams, steep hillsides, sheer cliffs and waterfalls. Designed with scenic requirements a priority over commercial. Moss covered stone retaining walls, guard rails, and bridges. Lush, cool, forests dripping with moss, tall tumbling waterfalls, the road windy and narrow. A lovely detour in search of gas, a hop back on the highway – wider and straighter, faster. But equally scenic. The road curving along the Columbia River Gorge, the icy pointy peak of Mount Hood melting into the blue and white sky behind us, the river wide at our left, columnar basalt cliffs on our right.
A few hours later, another detour. Across the bridge to the Washington state side. A spur-of-the-moment stop for fresh picked cherries, curious about a concrete Stonehenge-like monument sitting on a remote bluff in the distance. Nearby, a sculpture park and art museum . And unknown to me at the time – the creation of Sam Hill – who also envisioned the historic section of roadway we had driven earlier in the day. A world-traveler and champion of scenic roadways in an era when travel was entirely by surface transportation.
The landscape changing from emerald-green to sage, the occasional oasis of irrigated land – a vineyard or orchard, small clusters of houses. Continuing east, burnt sienna buttes and stone cliffs, deep narrow clefts between folds of barren earth. Scatterings of blue and yellow wildflowers, sagebrush, tumbleweeds – turning eventually to rolling corduroy ripples of wheat and rapeseed fields more typical of the mid-west. Silver grain elevators and silos replacing rock cliffs as the dominant feature of the skyline, larger versions of historic wooden elevators, the rural architecture of agribusiness and farming traditions. An iconic feature of the American landscape, now gone from many parts of the country. Some active, others defunct or restored for new purpose. Along the river, industry, barges and power-dams, the railway. Mile after mile of wind towers. The only other stop, a winery in a converted mill. A quick bite to eat – and some Cabernet for later. Many miles still to go – a late night hotel room picnic on the horizon. The west a cool, fresh breeze, Eastern Oregon beautiful in its starkness and majesty.