Unfolding the Map
It's been a long trip. We've traveled through 154 places and we're at least halfway through the trip, maybe a little more. It might be time to stop for a moment and enjoy the view. The canyon of the Pit River might be a good place to put it all in perspective and give us some impetus for the rest of the journey. Click on the map thumbnail at right to see where you might find the Pit River Gorge, and enjoy a little rest!
"Highway 89 wound among the volcanic dumpings from Lassen that blasted Hat Creek valley about three hundred times between 1914 and 1917. Scrub covered the ash, cinders, and lava as the wasteland renewed itself; yet even still it looked terribly crippled. Off the valley floor, California 299 climbed to ride the rim of the Pit River gorge. I ate a sandwich at the edge of a deep rift that opened like jaws to expose rocks so far below they were several hundred million years older than the ones I sat on. From the high edge I looked down on the glossy backs of swallows as they glided a thousand feet, closed their wings like folded fans, and plummeted into the abyss. It was a wild, mad, silent, spectacular descent of green iridescence that left me woozy."
Blue Highways: Part 6, Chapter 1
Pit River Gorge, California
The first time my wife and I decided to take a drive down the Pacific Coast of California on State Highway 1, she would shout out "Vue Panoramique" every time we came to a sign that read "Vista." We'd pull over, and we would get out and look at the view, snap a couple of pictures, and move on.
After a while, I found myself getting a little annoyed. Did we have to stop at every single vista? I was thinking ahead toward where I wanted to go, and that we had to be there by a certain time, and that every pullout off the road was making us that much later than we ought to be.
At times, that little story has been the metaphor of my life. I've been in such a rush to get to the endpoint that I don't stop to appreciate the many panoramas that life offers on the way. On a journey, if one is on a schedule, one can often be given a break for not stopping to look at a beautiful vista, or pulling over to examine some curiosity. I understand that.
But what is the endpoint of life? What are we rushing headlong toward? There's the perspective that we need. The final point of our lives is death, plain and simple. It is the point where we leave this world and, depending on your belief, we either cease to exist or we move on. Either way, this life offers us many beautiful things, many gorgeous vistas, many odd curiosities, for us to see and appreciate. I don't know how many times, however, in my headlong rush to get someplace else, I have passed them by. My mom always tells me that I don't take time to "stop and smell the roses." That's one of her favorite sayings, and sometimes it annoys me. But she's right. I don't take enough time to stop and appreciate the beauty in life.
To be certain, there are cheats and frauds. There are places that don't add up to the advertising. A favorite movie scene of mine is in the film Rat Race, where the character played by Jon Lovitz is trying to get to Silver City, New Mexico to win a contest and his children and wife want to stop at the Barbie Museum. It turns out that this nice Jewish family has been lured in by the signs into the Klaus Barbie Museum, celebrating the life of the Nazi known as The Butcher of Lyon. Greek mythology gave us the Lotus Eaters, who entrap people by offering a flower that when ingested causes them apathy and robs them of months, years and even lifetimes. We run into these traps from time to time with varying degrees of seriousness and we take away from them varying degrees of pain.
But as we grow older, most of us learn how to avoid the charlatans, and to appreciate the best that life has to offer, I believe. Sure, there will be some that are always rushing headlong toward the end. There will be others who always get sidetracked into places where they shouldn't be. But all of us, at some point, will pull over and enjoy the view from time to time. Like LHM, we'll sit on the edge of a beautiful vista, eat a sandwich, and watch the birds swoop down into the canyon or off the ocean bluffs in amazing acrobatic feats. We can think awhile, put our trip into the perspective of our lives, and our lives in the perspective of everything.
The faster that we move in life, in my experience, the faster our lives seem to pass by. I'll explore this theme in the next post, but here's a preview: when I'm doing more, I appreciate less. I have gone through periods where I've done so much, I can't remember a couple of days later what event I've attended or what movie I've seen. There's something not quite right and a little sad about that. It's almost as if I haven't participated in those events at all.
I'm trying hard to slow down. Given that the speed of my life is measured out through the passage of time and space, I don't need to try to make it faster. I need to enjoy what the next second, the next minute brings me. As I round the corners on my life's journey, or as the waypoints I see ahead get larger as they get closer, I want to try to make sure I learn about them if they are interesting, experience them as well as I can, and leave them when it is right.
The next time you are traveling, and you see a historical marker, or an oddity, or a curiosity, or even better, a vista, stop for a moment and enjoy it. You'll get to your destination eventually; what's a few minutes to savor the mysteries the world has to offer us. After all, as far as we know, we're only on our life's trip once and when it's over, it truly is over. So take time to enjoy the "Vue Panoramique" that life offers.
My sister introduced me to this Colin Hay song a few years ago. I'd only known of him because of the Australian band Men at Work, but I learned from her that he had a whole repertoire of solo, acoustic work. This song, Beautiful World, captures in many ways the theme of this post. I can picture LHM on the edge of the canyon with this song. I wanted to get a video with a vista, but I ran across this one and I must say, I enjoy the doodles that accompany it. See, I took to the time to enjoy a curiosity! Enjoy life and this world and what they have to offer because this is as good as it gets.
If you want to know more about the Pit River
Next up: Fall River Mills and McArthur, California