I think a lot about Lewis and Clark in Washington, and not in a cute way. I think about the role they took in making a map of a vector West, and the cost of that vector to the people who didn’t need to be explored or documented or displaced for years to come. I think a lot about the thrill the two must have felt — to be white, funded, and seeing the bends of these rivers for the first time, feeling like god was cupping their precious asses and propelling them forward, across, through, beyond where the president could see. To be destined, manifestly.
We meet a man who looks like Colonel Sanders, who has been roasting coffee beans for fifty years. This fact is printed and posted everywhere in the hazelnut-scented interior of the patio-furnished roastery. He wants to give us things: money, coffee, a good time. This is weird, but we have reached a place that feels like resignation or maybe buoyancy. We’ve fallen into the groove of exhaustion and giddiness that comes with another salad in the back of the car, another view of a strange river, another city we won’t get to know. Half the people in the grocery store look like they’re on meth, and in front of us stands a pair of shoulders clad in a black and white bomber jacket that screams “JESUS” in what might be praise and might be expletive.
It is pouring as we write another campsite slip, and we set up tarp and tent under a cluster of pinecones, starting a fire again. We think about how much better at all of this we are now that we are about to stop doing it for a long time. Isn’t that how it always works?
The sun comes out only to set, and we sprint to the edge of the road, where it curves to match the bank of the river, and it is so beautiful under a rainbow and a hundred pines, I want to protect it from Ken Burns. I want to protect it from the campers on its banks flying national colors. I want to protect it, paradoxically, from us.
Washington chafes. It’s a scrap of fabric tied around your neck while someone cuts your hair, the shorn pieces wiggling underneath to scrape at your neck. We really do cut our hair here. After dinner, while the campfire still crackles, we finally unsheathe beard trimmers from their plastic casing and clip chunks out of our mullet-y, overgrown shags.
The pressure is too much for me. We fought earlier in the day. We resolved. And here I am wielding an instrument I’ve never used on a haircut I barely understand, desperately wanting to help someone else feel better, and knowing that the clumsy, shelf haircut I am providing will not do the trick. I try. And become irrevocably frustrated and agitated at my inability to do this well, and what I register as reprimands which are really attempts at help. Rationality is out of grasp, which is becoming more and more frequent these days, and I am mad, and I can’t make eye contact, and I am a child. Finally, in our sleeping bags in the tent, we peel away the fabric at our necks, wipe it with a warm towel to clear the itchy remnants of hair, and dig in again. Working towards understanding, and symbiosis.
The land doesn’t look real in places; more like a Dr. Seuss book, sculpted in perfect convexity, striped uniformly, treeless. There is a gorge we are not allowed to enter; a Grateful Dead cover band is playing this weekend and you need a ticket. The gorge is enormous, like a peach cracked open, exposing its pitted center. We drive on and pull off at a vista point and look at this gorge. We are so small. We have to pee. As is becoming more frequent nowadays, I squat, barely concealed, and let loose. Some sort of childishness or animalism or something that has nothing to do with the city is more and more my default state. The wind blows us over, but not off.
Is this how it feels to be delivered to a place? We’ve made it West, the way we started. Half the sky is gray and somber, half sunny like Southern Italy (where I have also never been), casting blues extra blue and whites extra white as we drive into Seattle. A paradise, for the tech wealthy. Somewhere between deliverance and bafflement.
We stay in an apartment with so many gadgets, I don’t know how to do anything. Gadgets of convenience. It takes us an hour to make coffee, and I scald my hand before realizing I used two parts of gadgets that don’t go together. I am an alien in this apartment, fully aware of my disconnect from the technology and way of life most people our age find natural. I want to go and get the campstove again. I want to sleep under the loud tarp. I want to run down to the water. But instead, I shower and dress like I, too, might be going to work. And we set out to see the wolves.
On the road we are like the wolves we see in the sanctuary. In some ways free-er, and yet still caged. Still prowling, pacing enclosures, looking for something, eyeing everyone that passes. Wanting something wanting wanting. When I see them, it is like a catch in my eyes, in my throat, that forces water from my eyes and makes me want to dig into the dirt — farther, into Earth. I want to become a tree. I want to bend with the weather instead of blocking it with the umbrellas they give us in the visitors’ center. I feel other than human. And all of this is to say that I do not think of myself as spiritual, but when I look at the wolves and really think about them, think about two cardboard cutouts named Lewis and Clark, think about the arbitrary hatred of and reconciliation with a species whose strongest recommendation, evidently, is their monogamy, I think I can imagine a future where we stop fooling around and start caring about things that are essential. Keystone. But people on the tour keep asking questions and talking over the guide and I am reminded that I’m more them than I am wolf. So we get in the car and then we order eggs and then we drive to yet another state.