From birth, a great wall screens the Greensider from an uncomfortable reality. We live with our backs to it, like riverboat gamblers, indifferent to the white sawtooth peaks that scrape the clouds from the sky. Everything we love – the grey air, the cold jungle, the wet asphalt – the Cascades steal for us from the rest of the state. We are like mandarins in a sea of suffering, boreals milk-fed on austral pillage. Beyond the ridge: rattlesnakes, black widows, right-wingers. The knowledge terrifies us.
Thus the passes, fabled portals hanging somewhere above our ceiling of vision, disturb our dreams. All winter long the radio intones their names: White Pass, Stevens Pass, Blewitt, Snoqualmie. When the alpine snow seals them up, we are caged in our cloying lotus land. It's a frightening thought.
I had to get over those mountains, to find refuge in reality; a real world cure for my real world pain. Now at last I was climbing east, and out. How better to shake Green Side grief than to lose it on the North Cascades Highway, whose high twin passes disappear each autumn, and stay gone, till the mountains give them back.
(Adapted from Rough Around the Edges: A Journey Around Washington's Borderlands, copyright RK Henderson. Photo of the Walla Walla country courtesy of Jeffrey G. Katz and Wikimedia Commons.)