Friday, October 31, 2014

Wet Wheels on Wet Rails

Wet Wheels on Wet Rails
The rain washes the streets, the cars, the people, everything. The rain collides with Earth at the treetops. The water collects and slides down the trunks of trees. The moss covered, water saturated ground has become resistant to more water. The water rolls down off the mountainsides, it collects in gutters and flows down drains. The water eventually falls into the Columbia and with a mighty-mighty force crashes into the Pacific.

This is not a lesson on the water cycle.

This is something else entirely.

When the rain beat at my face during that first trip to Astoria I knew there was something about the place or about me that needed further investigation. This is always the case, when at the age of 27, you come to a place for the first time and feel like you have belonged to that place for all of time.

The stories are too many to recount. This is naturally the case when you have visited a place dozens of times.

I lived through the Colorado droughts of the early 2000s. I watched the thousand year old glaciers evaporate. There were wildfires on all sides. The water tables were dropping at such a rate that entire municipalities lost their drinking water. If you're struggling with this concept please understand what I've just said: Astoria, so much rain and water and rivers and ocean and overlay that with Denver (in the early 2000s) with searing heat, wildfires and not a drop of water to drink.

One afternoon in the summer of 2001, I walked from downtown Denver to the place I worked on east 17th Ave. It was a searing hot day, but not just the kind of day we had all become accustomed to having. On this day it was not only regular hot, it was also cloudy. A cloudy day in these conditions is like sitting in a summertime car with the windows up and the heater on. At the corner of Downing and 17th I considered going into a Mexican restaurant for tequila and beer. I hesitated before deciding the better of it and pushing on, toward work. The summer was making all of us a little crazy. And in that craziness, we were all inclined to do things that would not make sense with slightly cooler weather.

The distance between Downing and Park Ave is about 200 feet. As I waited for the light to change at Park Ave, it began to rain. Rain. Rain, if you don't mind. And cold drops of rain. Cold drops of rain on a really fucking hot day in the middle of a white hot drought. As I began to cross the street, I looked down. What I saw there disturbed me more than the already unnerving state of affairs in this time of drought. It was raining, yes, but the cool raindrops I felt on my face evaporated before they hit the ground. That's right, try as they might, these raindrops, this rain was not going to amount to anything.

I hurried on. In the heat of the day, I considered my past in Oregon, and most especially in Astoria. The longer I thought about it with the heat on me like a despotic bully, I fantasized about a passage back to the Northwest.

I figured I would work and work and work and save and save and save and then go up to Astoria for a year and create something: write a novel, paint pictures, snap photographs. In short, I would leave the inferno and go to a place that is perennial springtime and create art.

Life would have something very different in store for me.

I did get to Oregon. In Oregon I did spend a year making art, I wrote novels. I even made it back to Astoria. I made it back to Astoria a few times.

I had no idea it would be my last trip to Astoria when we went. It was a family vacation. It was a cool weekend in April. The rain fell in small misting balls hitting treetops first, rolling down hills and finding a home in the Columbia before getting to the Pacific.

On the boardwalk, a trolley rolled by with wet wheels on wet rails.  

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