I'm on Hwy 4 now, driving west, back on track to following my original plan. The
hills are bright and clean. Everything around me stands out in sharp relief. Colors
are intensified. We have had a warm January and February, and there is an understory
of fresh green on the hills. The bark of the Red Alders are almost totally covered
with greyish white lichens that makes them look more like Birch trees than the Alders
I know back home. They are still bare of leaves, but they are starting to open their
dark red catkins, The finely penned black and white line drawings they create against
grey winter skies have grown a haze of burgundy around their perimeter. In the greyness
of a rainy day, they look ghostlike, but in the sunshine, they almost glow, lovely
and startling, interspersed in bright patches against a dark green backdrop of Douglas
Fir and Sitka Spruce.
I am intrigued by the old falling down houses. And there are lots of them out here.
Easier to abandon than to dismantle, I guess. So they decay, fall down in stages,
or blackberry vines engulf them and pull them down and they are lost forever. I pass
a falling down barn with what looks like some shiny piece of aluminum roofing blown
crosswise – from my perspective, it looks like a giant piece of duct tape trying
to hold it together. I laugh at my own joke.
In Skamokawa, a 3 building town, I stop for lunch and a map. After eating half of
my giant vegetarian sandwich, I am on the road again. looking for the turnoff to
the covered bridge. It is well marked, and just a couple of miles down the road in
a lovely pastoral bright green valley. I park my car and walk across the bridge.
The sun glints through openings in the slats along the sides, creating star patterns
around me. One car passes with an older couple in it and we smile and wave to each
other, all of us enjoying what has turned out to be a beautiful afternoon. I take
some time to explore the lichens and mosses in the trees nearby, and observe that
the old Alder at the far end of the bridge is drilled with small holes in a regular
pattern of horizontal lines. I later read that it is probably the work of a red breasted
sapsucker, a type of woodpecker. Surprises everywhere. Worlds within worlds.
Grays River Valley and the covered bridge
From the inside
Fruiting bodies of a lichen called
Back on Hwy 4 now, heading west, my next goal is to explore a road that leads south
out of a tiny community called Rosburg, a road that, on the map, curves south, and
back east a bit, and seems to run right along the river to a little town called Altoona,
and beyond. I'm curious. Never been there. Didn't even know it was there. And so
I'm on it, and yes, it does lead to the river, first along a little sort of swampy
inlet with the curious name of Devil's Elbow. What could have happened there to make
some old timer give it that name? I pass an occasional house, some currently occupied,
some mere ghosts of the past, being eaten by the blackberries.
Then suddenly I am driving along the river – in fact there is not too much between
me and the river here. We are getting closer to the coast at this point, and the
river is very wide and powerful and commands respect. Mighty Columbia, yes indeed.
I am humbled. I reach a small community – it must be Altoona though there is no sign.
Certainly no store. Some nice houses, some run down shacks, a mobile home or 2, a
big black dog that chases my car coming and going. There are fishing boats and decaying
piers and piles of logs washed ashore. On the other side of town the road rises into
the hills, and becomes gravel. I'd like to get to something called, on the map, 'Pyramid
Rock', but I chicken out. I am beyond my comfort level of solitary exploration. So
I head back down the hill, and the unexpected view of the Mighty Columbia River from
my vantage point on the hill, with the lowering sun shining across the water makes
me gasp and stop awhile to take it all in. Thank you, I say, to some unknown universal
spirit, for this beautiful day.