Driving I-90 across Washington is like driving through a lifetime. Starting here in Spokane, I crawl up the on-ramp to the highway. Looking off to each side I see the activity and color that is my current life. I can see individual people, making their way on sidewalks or standing in their yards. Sometimes in pairs or groups in animated conversations. This is where the life is, this is the now part of the trip. It’s easy to pass the downtown area and see little of it. Although the freeway cuts along the divider between the urban and suburban demarcation line, the city is merely a blur of tallish buildings that comes and goes, grasping no real notice.
Then the city is behind and to either side is a thick greenery of firs and pines. The crowded population of trees is like the memories I have of the city. Packed up tightly in one spot are the lives of my children and the day to day events that describes the events most clear to me. The trees begin to thin, and areas of hard rock appear, turning the trees into scrub. The farther out I go, the less dense are the memories. Like the trees, I think about this or that thing that happened in the past. The time between them like the rocks, unyielding to anything save the works of time.
The trees fall behind and a belt of agriculture appears. Vast rolling lands cut into dusty brown furrows, dotted here and there with dust devils. The whirling debris like pointers here and there across a wide span of time. I think about things in the more distant past. Like the ground between the drawers of my attention, there are more years between the things my wandering mind encounters. The trip is growing long now, and fatigue hits me like the desert that is the center of our state. For miles there is nothing but brown, beige and tan. The road is a dark ribbon that seems to look into forever, keeping thoughts from focusing on anything in particular.
As the west side of the state approaches, the mountains rise up. Citadels that block the mundane from the new and unique. The coast is on the other side of those mountains, Seattle nestled against the shoreline. Up and over the mountains, the long giddy glide downward takes me closer and closer to the bustling city that is actually made of endless cities, one overlaying another in a fireworks burst of energy and activity that my home town cannot compete with. Everything happens here; the shopping and music, the museums and restaurants. Pikes Place and Alaskan Way, the ferry boats going to and fro across the sound. This is not a place where one recalls memories, it is a place that makes them.
The trip back is similar. There is the long, long climb up and out of the city. As though everything wishes you could stay there and tries to slow your departure. Holding one back until the pass is crossed. Then it’s like the resistance simply gives up. The downhill now slings you away. If you want to leave, then fine. Just go. The desert appears to give you time to think about the brightness of activity, the flurry of events you have just experienced. The distant horizon gives the opportunity to plant the memories firmly so they’ll take root. The precious cargo retained well into the future. The long ribbon of road is now an arrow that points the way home.
The ground undulates and agriculture rears up again. It warnen of the rock and pine gateway just ahead. The smattering of green preparing you for the moat of evergreens that surrounds the city. The wall of fir and pine grows and grows until we crest one last hill. Now we can see the city. Only coming back to we get a view that shows the breadth and width, the bustle of activity we never notice in living it. The city is somehow prettier than when we left, an element of excitement is mixed with the recognition that this is home.
We descend the hill and suddenly the city is beside us again. The downtown area whisks by again, so quickly that a blink causes one to miss it. The focus is now on the traffic and the signs that count off recognized street names, leading us to the one that is our own. A turn signal marks the end of the journey and we roll off the freeway, back into the work a day mundane, yet feeling good to be back again. This is home, and perhaps not as glittering and active as distant places, marvels by their unfamiliar differences, it is where we lie and there is a special comfort in that. While distant cities offer us special memories, this is the place that we build the majority of our recollections. The ones that serve us best as we look back over time and remember our lives.