Sunday, February 12, 2012

My Old Friend, U.S. Highway 2

You know those rare moments when you realize what a good friend you've had standing quietly beside you through the years? Today, I drove a two-lane highway for the umpth time -- through the corridor of trees, alongside the emerald Skykomish River, next to metal train cars chugging alongside, up up up to Stevens Pass. And I realized: Highway 2 and I have a long sweet history.

Today, a clear winter road took us up to Stevens Pass for Noah's Sunday ski lesson. A rare treat to spend two hours in the car, just my little buddy and me. Sure, he was tired. Sure, I was tired. 6:30 am, an early morning up and out of the house. A long drive ahead. I ignore an impulse to offer him an iPhone or Leapster game. I drive in the quiet and occasionally adjust my rear view mirror to study his face. Much of the ride, his eyes are relaxed -- lids heavy but open, his relaxed face turned to the window.

How many times have I whizzed along this road, watched the same scenery he was taking in? Today, we pass by gray-brown trees, haloed by the gray-white light of midwinter, covered in a thick moss like fur. Limbs stretch across the road like arms in slow motion. Together, my son and I fly through this tunnel of time.

Highway 2 was a frequent road to adventures in my early twenties. My then-boyfriend Brad and I would pack up for the day, sometimes without a plan, for a hike or to explore a town or to picnic or all the above. Sultan. Startup. Skykomish. Goldbar. I loved the sounds of these towns, the way you could still feel their roots out of nothingness, settlements borne out of some bold people making their way through these mountains as miners or loggers or prospectors.

The great Northwest lay at my feet, too. Both Brad and I were new to the area and hungry for its thick trees, its rivers, its mountains. That we could pass a car loaded with skis, then a car strapped down with a kayak, and another topped by a mountain bike, and us with our leather hiking boots itching for a trail... it felt exhilarating as hell to live here. It felt new and limitless.

It wasn't just a new city for me, or a new state. Living in this corner of the U.S. - it was an entirely new country for me. And man alive was it amazing. To be on my own, at the start of my adult life, discovering the beauty of great outdoors. Discovering who I was, in the context of America. Sure, I'd visited the Northwest - but under the wings of my parents, always as a child. Now I was in charge of the discoveries, and it was exhilarating. Highway 2. Curves of road lined with soft bristle of evergreen tree - and then around one corner, POW! A fist of snow-covered granite, Mount Index, hits you in the face.

Twenty years later, Highway 2 is an old friend, one that I'm still hanging out with, still new having adventures. Today, I'm with my six-year-old son. And every time I round that curve, the one that flings your car by that stretch of river that sits still and deep turquoise, your car so close you can almost imagine you are a bird swooping over the smooth boulders holding the pool wide, so close you have to inhale sharply every time, smile softly as you turn your head out the window to take in as much of the turquoise as you can, and you have to say to whoever is in the car with you this time, "Look at that! Oh man, is that beautiful. Look at that color." Every time. To my then-boyfriend or my husband or my good friend or my son or my mother -- whoever is on the adventure today. And if I'm by myself, just me and the road, you can bet I think the exact same thought.

Here's to old friends, you and me, Highway 2.

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