Wednesday, March 28, 2012
I spent much of last week on the east side of the mountains. It was a long and somewhat difficult week, and so I chose to take the slow way home, along the Historic Columbia River Highway - the old Highway 30 - from The Dalles to the little town of Mosier.This road is an artifact from the pre-freeway era; narrow and winding. It runs through some of the prettiest country in Oregon, the lower slopes of the Columbia River Gorge.It is an extraordinarily pleasant drive on a sunny day. But I can see why it was bypassed by the extraordinarily unpleasant, ugly, boring I-84; anything larger than a milk float would have to creep through the many tight, off-camber turns that make the road so pretty to dawdle along.The early spring blooms were emerging, and the contrast between the rich purples and yellows and the gray basalt drew my eye. I was pleased by the contrast between the springtime at the base of the high south wall and the lingering winter at the top.I think that sometimes we are deceived by the artifacts of the past. We compare the speed and size of our creations with those of earlier times and think of the people who built them as pastoral romantics, living a more picturesque life at an intentionally slower pace.And that gets a certain type of person all soppy and nostalgic for that that life at that pace.I don't think those vanished people were that much different from us. I think they wanted as much as they could as quickly as they could get it; I don't think they enjoyed a long, slow trip from Portland to Pendleton any more than we do.I think that if they could have built a road that was ugly but swift, they would have.But they couldn't, and so they built the one they left behind. And it's a very lovely road. But I think it leads us astray.I think it's a very human trait to assume that we the living are living in the most frantic, most hectic, most confusing, most dangerous times ever. And to look behind us and get a little weepy about the Good Old Days. And forget that to those people, their times were the most frantic, most hectic, most confusing, most dangerous times ever.And given things like the Black Death and the Mongol invasions, they might well have been correct.But now that those times are safely encased in the amber of memory they simply look peaceful and pretty like a small winding backroad on a slow, sleepy, languid sunny day.