Everyone was right.
The mountains sat in the distance, silent giants watching over the golden valley below. I don't quite know when the valley turned to forest. If I had to guess, it would have been right around the time Hermoine saved Harry's life when we traded open space for forest so dark and dense it turned the road into a canyon with only a strip of blue sky showing ahead. The green hurt my eyes, the colors so deep and vibrant I wanted to use a filter to tone them down to the dusty browns and greens of my drought stricken home.
The twists and tangles of the road took us deeper up the mountain. I turned off Harry as Joseph fell asleep and drove in silence, the hum of the car lulling the memories from my brain.
Mt. Hood is one of my mountains. Growing up, it was Hood, St. Helens, Adams, and Rainier who stood guard over the stretches of road and river where I spent my childhood. While Adams and Rainier were content to sit silently, Hood and St. Helens made themselves known - one with an eruption, both with death.
When I was in elementary school, a tragedy ensnared my imagination, forever painting Mt. Hood with a slightly sinister shadow. A group of high school students, teachers, and a guide embarked on a climb. Of those who pushed to the summit, four survived: two who were found alive on top of a pile of six bodies in a snow cave they built to protect themselves from the sudden spring storm and two who made their way down the mountain, searching for help.
As I drove up the mountain on a warm summer day, I couldn't help but think of those students, their families, and the time that's passed. Thirty years since I pored over The Oregonian and the daily news from the top of the mountain. Thirty years.
It's shocking to realize those sixteen and seventeen year old students would now be older than the adults who led the expedition. It's more shocking still to realize that I'm older than all but one teacher and a decade older the guide was at the time.
I flipped on the radio, drowning dark thoughts that had no place in the magic that was Highway 26. We drove through small towns, past campgrounds, and, finally, Portland and civilization.
My cell phone died, the only charger in the back of the car. We crossed the river on remembered directions and finally pulled off in a parking where I let the phone charge and we stretched our legs, so close to our destination, we could almost walk.
We drove through the back roads, getting lost only once before arriving at the vaguely familiar home of the Byrums. I had a momentary panic that the amazing visit we'd had two years before had been a fluke and we were about to embark on an awkward holiday weekend.
I was, of course, wrong.
They opened their door and it was as if twenty four months had been days. In a few short minutes, the kids were in their suits, swimming under the trees while the adults caught up on the changes of the last couple of years.
The sun sets late in Washington in the summer. Late enough that by the time the kids changed out of their suits and got ready to eat dinner, I realized they'd been swimming far past their bedtime. While we waited for Makenzy to get back from work, Don and I sent the kids to bed and opened a bottle of wine, turning our conversation to people we knew, people we remembered.
Every visit, it seems, comes with news. And every visit, I realize yet again how far away I am. Makenzy came home and we finished our conversations in the quiet starlight. I went to bed that night in a pretty nook of a room, excited for the adventures still to come.