When people visit Oregon, there are a lot of favorite places that I never tire of bringing people to again and again. Of all those places, there is no doubt that the most repetitive is the Columbia River Gorge. We have brought so many people to Multnomah Falls that I've started a collection of photographs of people whose picture I've taken in the same exact spot, year after year. I've returned on my own countless other times, gone on a number of hikes and seen things even more spectacular than what you can see from the highway. And I never get sick of it. From Portland to Hood River, everything about the Columbia River Gorge is my heart.
Yet two of the visits I remember best are two of the earliest ones. (Like I said in another post, coming first often counts more than you realize.) The first time I ever drove through the Columbia River Gorge, we were nearing the end of our cross country trip here in 2007. And I'm almost certain it caused a fight. While driving across the country is an amazing thing, it's also a tiring thing. It's a thing of not having a regular bed for many nights, of so many hours on the road that your eyes glaze over. I imagine it could be even more trying when you have me as a companion: over-ambitious over-planner extraordinaire. We were so close to Portland. We were almost there. So tired, and so close to the waiting arms of our friend Zoe, whose apartment we would crash in until we found our own, so close to something resembling stability. Thirty miles away close, after days and days of plotting out our mileage by the hundreds. Most sane people would have probably wanted to just plunge on, as I believe Kathy wanted to. But no. There were these waterfalls I had read about. I wanted to see the waterfalls. I'd learn about the Missoula floods later, all the secrets this landscape holds, but at this point, all I knew were that waterfalls were good.
This is a difference that will probably persist until the day we die: Kathy is a person who knows her limits, who knows when to stop and rest. This is not a fault. I have trouble with limits. Trouble recognizing them; trouble listening to them. (I'm the only one who's allowed to admit this. Try to call me on it, I will feel pout-y and boxed in. Limits? Psh, life is short.)
So we saw the waterfalls. To be honest, I don't think they blew my mind. I had already seen Chicago and the Black Hills and Yellowstone. My capacity to absorb was weak. I was tired. My limits shrugged. You win some, lose some.
But the first time the Columbia River Gorge really mattered was a few months later. My dad was the first to come West, late that October, and we headed out on the Historic Columbia River Gorge Highway. It was the fall, is what did it. The fall makes everything magical. The light is right. And while the range of color here can never surpass the East Coast, ever, there's still something about the yellows and oranges that's very lovely, and it fringed everything that day.
As we drove, I felt the calmness in the pit of my belly that lets me know I am truly happy and where I am meant to be. The Columbia River Gorge, which I've tried to wax poetic about at many points before in various places and failed miserably at every time, is always where I'm meant to be. But especially, particularly, most wondrously, in the fall.