On another day I'll ride through this point and gasp at the tree that's fallen and the stains left on the road. I will keep doing this, day after day, until one in which I learn another tree has fallen and avoided killing my coworker by mere inches. Truly inches, 30 or a few less. The span of these sun-brown hands.
I will learn this the day I have come through this spot again, as I do on the bike tours I lead, three times. Once with my guests on their bikes and then back alone and then, in the van, again, alone. Now I listen to the woods and say to them I honor you, I fear you, I say in my heart and my body to the man who died that day, you live on, I do not know you except for the feeling your body and blood have left in mine; but I carry you in my soul.
Let's tell the story now.
I ride my bike back and forth on the road between Latourell Falls and Sheppherd's Dell several times in most weeks.
Today a man died there. A tree fell on his car... he must have died instantly. That's what it looked like.
I was unracking my tourists' bikes when I saw the cars turning around on the road I meant to use, again, again, as I do so often I can't count that many times. Hundreds. I unracked my bike and rode up to where the obstacle must be. A tree fell, someone said, on a car, and in that moment I tried not to grasp how much that meant. But I heard the wailing then, as I rode through the lichens and mosses and bark and broken glass left behind. The woman was wailing so that I could not help but look for blood.
I saw it then.
The blood on the man who had been driving the car. I won't describe it any more. Someone who must have come by right after the tree fell asked loudly for a blanket, and I rode my bike as fast as I could to get a poncho. I was shaking and shaking and a man -- almost a boy, really -- who said he was a medical assistant came running back with me. "No use," said the one who'd asked for the blanket when we offered help. "I feel nothing." No pulse, he meant, but he just said, "nothing."
The wailing kept on. I never saw the woman, she must have been the sister or lover of the man I did see. I never could bring myself to read the news report but I've been told the woman and two small children lived. The younger, a baby, was unscathed.
I ride past this spot on my tours and look at those trees. Those trees... they're such creature of untrammeled wildness! I have seen alders and bigleaf maples and Douglas-firs fallen across the road. I've seen so many chunks of millions-year-old basalt on the road there too. I've seen the holes made by termites and woodpeckers and probably slugs and snails and lichens and mushrooms. The woods eats the woods here. Everything is decaying even while it's still alive.
This isn't all the story.
I had a premonition weeks ago. Right there maybe even under the tree where it happened. I know it was right after I left Latourell Falls and I kept seeing and hearing and feeling this force I can only describe as, thwump. A body hitting a car. Thwump. Thwump. It was so vicious and visceral I tried to force it out of my mind. I tried and tried to overtake it but still I kept feeling it as I rode back and forth across that piece of road to the next waterfalls. Thwump. Thwump.
I do think the universe is so much more than we see. Something shook so hard there when that woman started wailing. Something shook so hard it ripped open a hole.
I try to keep myself open too. I felt the impact of that tree hitting the car before it happened but did it serve any purpose? I've had to decide there isn't always a purpose. Maybe that's how tenuous our hold on the present is. It rips open and it's not a reason. Like there's no reason this man died. This man drove his car down the road I bike and drive all the time right at the very moment the key bit of tree gave way and the woods ate the woods.
Karen said that she is struck with the randomness, that sometimes there is only an unexpected pause, and then, sudden death. A pause in the midst of what we all think of as life -- and then it ends. As I say all the time, no wonder. No wonder we need stories to explain this.There's no safety, I thought as I put my guests back in the van and drove the long way around to the trailhead at Angel's Rest and got on the bikes again. Riding again to a waterfall that throws itself off an awesome cliff, one made thousands of years ago by a raucous and Biblical flood, a beautiful terrible wall of water. There's no security. The wild is all around us and it can't be tamed. We in our hubris believe we can tame it but it will always rewild, it will always take us and our neatly designed creations back.
I said this talking to the waterfall later, the two words over and over whispered so only the water could hear me, no safety. It's a reason to make families and make families bigger and let people love the people you love. It's a reason to thrust myself open and more open, making my connections based on love and wanting to and not anything else.
I have a lot more to say about this, I have a thousand thousand words to say, as I shatter still from the impact of that tree hitting the car I'm feeling like sometimes we all just have to wail because there is nothing else to do. Wail so hard it rips time open.
But then in the breath beyond the wail, the quiet. The woods returns and where the man's blood was will grow lichens and mosses, taking up his cells and, putting them to use, making new. The water of that woman's tears, evaporates, is dew and cloud and redcedar sap and the wild water rushing over that rock. His life force taken away lives on in me, because for an instant of his life, that pause before death, I inhabited him -- it lives on in the woods, who will eat the tree that fell, who will eat the blood left on the asphalt, who will eat the asphalt, who will eat me too.comments powered by Disqus