Only passing through

October 19, 2008

Driving east from Portland on Interstate 84 is humbling. I’m but an insignificant speck squeezing between the Columbia River’s slow-flowing expanse on one side and cliffs on the other.

As I cross the Cascade Mountains and encroach upon the high desert at The Dalles, a question arises: is there anywhere else in the United States where the geography changes so radically in so short a distance?

The transition from lush green to withered brown and black is like entering an alien world. The basalt rock escarpments and deeply furrowed hills look impenetrable. One doesn’t pass through but over them, as if traversing a two-dimensional painted movie set.

The panorama is too grand, too sweeping to let a Florida flat-lander like me truly enter. (I venture that most true-blood Oregonians feel the same way.)

Even when I stop and feel the ground crunch beneath my feet, dip my hands in the cold river as I did today, it doesn’t feel as if I belong.