West vol. 2: Inland empire

Columbia

Pasco, Washington

24 August 2013

Dear fellow-travelers,

When the grasshopper first springs in the air, its wings flash black with orange, and it flourishes in long arcs down the rail grade.  It touches earth with a bounce.  The ridges and clouds merge in a blue mist of rain, and the river prowls swerving and shivering through tall timber gorges.

Farther on, the grasshopper is gray.  It hides on the gravel and flies into sage, and its sound hides, too, in the tick and the ratchet of sprinklers and the algal sluicing of a thousand canals.  The broad valley bottom is verdant with hops, the hillside with grapes, and trucks roar through the afternoon hauling stacks upon stacks of crates filled with apples.  There are so many apples, cows stand in the yard amid heaps of them.

Farther on.  Somewhere above me is the sun; I walk on my shadow.  The steppe is a cardboard backdrop on a wall.

I entered the Intermountain West nine days ago, through the two-mile dark of the Snoqualmie Tunnel.  My every move has been accompanied by the rumble, scrape, or clatter of the cart I’m pushing, and by the constant worry that the cart might be falling apart.  I’m on my third pair of wheels already – the tires on the first pair stretched so badly that they wouldn’t stay on the rims, and the bearings on the second pair buckled a few days later.  I’m falling apart steadily myself, as well – hands aching and clumsy from pushing the cart over hundreds of miles of jolts and bumps, knees no longer working symmetrically, sunburned, blistered – so healing, recuperation, and maintenance are as much on my mind as water and shade.  I’ve been hugely fortunate in finding friends along the way, without whom all those necessaries would have been hard to come by.

The Yakima Valley is behind me.  The next stage of the walk follows the Oregon Trail southeastward, cutting off the long northward bend in the Snake.  When I’ve walked about as far again as I’ve walked already, I’ll reach Idaho.  I’m hoping the mania for NO TRESPASSING signs that distinguished the last two hundred miles will ease up a little, somewhere down the line; because when I’m the only person out under the sun, and the thirty-mile days are dragging, every one of those signs has my name on it.

Hey, grasshopper!

Owen

Next: West vol. 3: The people you’ll meet

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