By Matt Hart
Indian summer in Missoula, sky eggshell blue and sun warm. Up and west, I am following the Clark Fork from a window seat, watching the shimmer of late September on the wandering silver ribbon below. And the northern Bitterroots seemingly endless in stacked ridges of such quantity as to seem uniform, until I look closer and there are the logging roads snaking round their flanks like ropes on a scarred surviving body.
The mountains are not endless. The Clark Fork opens into the ear lobe puddle of Lake Ponderay and then the land becomes subtler, foothills and bumps and soon the stubble and swales of Eastern Washington. A patchwork of grain. I want to sit in a coulee in the heat of this sun, far away from anyone who knows me. I want to wear these boots into a tavern in one of those little specks of a town and hear the low rumbles of ranchers and farmers who fit on their barstools better than anywhere. I won’t speak much there.
And then suddenly the Columbia, racing south, deeply cut, and the last agriculture, and then starkly immediately unequivocally: new mountains rising fast, more spruce and fir and logging roads, and soon huge billows of cloud obscuring much. The coastal forest, yawning in deep green. The peaks impose a new jaggedness of form, taller and snaggletoothed, igneous knife-edges rising toward us in our puny white plane. And they are still rising.
And we are still moving, 500 miles per hour. Finally, as the spires fade to foothills and the first neighborhoods, it is there, to the south, rising above a Mordor of pointed peaks and cloud. Rainier, snow and rock pouring down the hulked sides, little flat gray clouds hanging on the summit like flies dogging the ears of an elephant. The mass of the thing is unbelievable. If I were born in the shadow and knew no other country, how could I understand this mountain as anything but the source of the divine?
The spell is broken by ocean. Puget Sound shimmers and sparkles and curls and absorbs. The curtain of the Olympics hazy in distant relief against cloud and reddening sky. Between the spiraling arteries of cul-de-sacs and ballfields and schools, the towering Doug firs, the lighter hardwoods. From above, it is so easy to picture it all barely inhabited by us, a rolling blanket of damp dark forest spanning mountain and sea. The forms of concrete, brick and steel pressure-washed from the land. Wood and water and cloud enduring. As they will. I step off the plane and the coastal air is cool, the asphalt hard beneath my feet.
Matt Hart is a senior co-editor of Camas.