Friday, April 06, 2007

Another Long Hard Lesson Learned


Several years ago I sat in the back seat of a small sedan, headed west on I90 across the state of Washington. The rolling wheat fields of the palouse gave way, as they always do, to the harsh scablands and desert of the arid center of the state. Sagebrush and harsh sun mark the summers in this part of the country, and mock Washington's "The Evergreen State" slogan.

As I90 began its descent into the Columbia River Valley, my thoughts turned to an old friend we'd soon see again. Just as I90 plows its way up the grueling west slope out of the Columbia River Valley, the Milwaukee Road begins its assault on the Saddle Mountains just a few miles to the south. The old roadbed passes names with no places, like Doris and Cheviot, and crests its 2.2% grade at Boyleston, then crosses I90 at Renslow as it parallels the interstate into the Kittitas Valley. In different times, passengers aboard the Columbian or Olympian were treated to views of Mt. Rainier as the lush Kittitas Valley region welcomed them into the land of the Cascades.

Now travelers are treated to the same view, but from the independence of a 4 lane superhighway. The interstate exits at Ellensberg reflect the times: a background of beautiful mountains - drowned out by the noise of fast food chains and gas stations. The Resourceful Railroad sits as an underused bike trail while people crowd the asphalt with cars.

Standing on the abandoned right of way near Cheviot and looking back over the sagebrush and sand, the quiet and solitude of the moment screams out against the noise we build up around ourselves. To me, there is a sadness that these choices reflect and it's all summed up in the loneliness of this old Saddle Mountain grade. As the world fills up with suburbias and parking lots, little pieces exist to remind us that it doesn't have to be that way. Beautiful mountains don't have to be lost in the noise of fast food chains, interstates don't have to be the only way to travel and see the country, and the quiet of the Milwaukee's corridor across the west doesn't have to be a finality. But as long as it is, and as long as they are, then I guess it's just another long hard lesson learned.

1 comment:

Marc Entze said...

Hey Leland,

VERY well said, a nice way to address the issue of the seemingly endless, wasteful, sprawl and the woefully inefficient Interstate systems. Everyone always says the MILW should never have been built, but time is certainly proving that it should never been abandoned.

Marc