So Spake Mo…
Before an expanse of metal filament spanned the waters of the Columbia from her Oregon to her Washington shores, an ancient landslide served the First Peoples as a bridge from one side of the awesome gorge to the other.
Decade after decade the Columbia strained against this entrapment, slowly wearing away at the underbelly of The Great Crossover. The tribes of the First People knew it was fragile. They had their rules for its use to protect the many against its inevitable fall.
And many were the stories of its origins. In one story, it was the body of the defeated tyrant, Thunderbird, from the days of the animal people. In another, it was the gift of the Great Spirit for the people to ease their difficulty in crossing the great river. In yet another, it was offered as a peaceful point of connection between two quarreling brother chiefs and their tribes.
But always in the stories it falls. As the Thunderbird, it merely crumbles away after many snows—though the people are warned not to look at its stones lest they anger the Great Spirit. As the gift of the Great Spirit, it is destroyed by his two sons, Klickitat the Totem-Maker (Mt. Adams) and Wyeast the Singer (Mt. Ranier), as they battle for the love of a woman—either Mt. St. Helens or Sleeping Beauty
Peak. Whether the lovers were originally mountains or became mountains as punishment for their destruction depends on the teller.
(c) Benjamin Zingg and Lynn Topinka
And as for the peaceful bridge between the two quarrelling peoples? They were not able to cease their wicked ways and when the woman their father offered as an example of peace and harmony became instead further fuel for their jealous rages, the Great Spirit struck down the bridge they did not deserve and transformed the chiefs and the woman into the snow peaks of Mt. Adam, Mt. Ranier, and the lady Mt. St. Helens. Even this did not stop the brothers quarrelling as they continued to hurl rock and fire at one another causing the channel of the Columbia to
narrow and roughen into the Cascades of the Columbia.
And so, in most of the stories, the Bridge of the Gods ends in rage and shattered hearts…and in the bitter disappointment of the father.
So Spake Me…
My family and I spent the weekend on the Washington end of the modern bridge of the gods at a resort called Skamania Lodge. If you’ve never been to the Columbia Gorge, it can be difficult to imagine a landscape that could inspire such huge stories: a thunderbird that could span the width of a major river, volcanoes hurling their rage like jealous lovers, scenery so lush, dramatic, and awe-inspiring that it could bring a brief peacetime to two resentful and greedy brother gods.
This is the landscape of wildest imagination and vividest daydreaming.
Of course, in order to hear the stories the soil and the stones have to tell, one must first be still. This does not included being rushed from the breakfast buffet to the hiking to the swimming pool to the badminton—oh, damn, we missed the s’mores making—to the museum to the gift shop to the burger joint. And there we go…back out of town!
I wondered at the end how I could have been right in the heart of Nature at her greatest and still not felt a part of nature. Speed, for certain. And the rain, of course, which tended to chase us indoors. The prepackaged experience was another. A hiking path so carefully marked, offering views of the
golf course, of homes.
Sometimes I’ve noticed I feel deliberately chased out of nature. The woods behind our home have become the natural habitat for indigents and drug-addicts who attack young girls. At the resort, the sense that you had to keep moving so as not to be in the way of other hikers coming along behind, the feeling that you MUST stay on the trail to preserve the habitat. No scrabbling up a hillside just to see where it went. No making tubular confetti out of snake grass just for fun. There are too many of us now. If we enjoy it to its fullest, we’ll destroy it.
I remember nights beneath the trees, watching the black branches brush across the stars and stir the clouds around the moon. I remember drinking in the
wind like it was more necessary to my survival that food or water. I remember peace and I remember songs and I remember daydreaming so many impossible possibilities.
Will my children ever experience that? Will they sit out on the back porch and watch the woods sway? Or will they have to come in because the cloud of mosquitoes from the too-warm winter probably carries West Nile virus. Too many of us. All boxed in.
So much rushing, always rushing. From school to homework to practice to class. Slow down, my little love. That’s right, I see the superhero in the plaster swirls on your ceiling. I see the stars on the cowboy’s revolver. I see your wishes in the flicker of the streetlight. I feel that wind, that spirit-filling wind sweeping in from your window.
There, my little love, there’s the rustle of the branches, the shushing of the leaves.
Be still. Listen…
Indian Legends of the Pacific Northwest
Tragic Triangle: Love Story of Loowit
History Link: Bridge of the Gods spanning the Columbia Between Skamania County and Cascades Locks, Oregon, is completed in 1926
First People: The Legends – The Bridge of the Gods
Wikipedia: Bridge of the Gods
The Story of Place