pages fly away 16

The Grand Coulee Dam, completed between 1933 and 1942, stands at 550 feet and is one of the largest power stations in the United States.  It also provides irrigation for nearly 700,000 acres. 

If I knew anything about the dam before visiting, it was that Woodie Guthrie had once been commissioned by the Department of the Interior to write songs about the Colombia River and the construction of the dams.  He wrote twenty-six songs, but then the film that they were to be a part of got postponed because of World War II and didn’t come out until 1949.  The songs eventually made it on an album called Colombia River Ballads.

It was still dark when I broke down camp at the Spring Canyon Campground and loaded up the car.  By now I had it down to an art.  It was guerilla camping at its finest, in and out with hardly a trace.

Before hitting the road, I wanted to go sit and meditate beside the dam.  I pulled up at an overlook beside the visitor center and sat down on a rock.  The faintest light of day was just showing behind the eastern hills.  It was cold, and though the wind had died down some, it was still gusty.  I went back and sat in the car, looking down at the lights of the dam, the ropes and buoys stretched across the surface of the water.  The window was down, and I could hear the cry of waterbirds below.

There was no one else out.  The awakening day was mine alone.  The light gradually grew brighter.  Ripples spread across the water.  In that grand setting, I sat and obsessed about the idiocy of requiring reservations for camping.  All night I’d lay there paranoid, the tent being battered by the wind, thinking I could hear the engine of a vehicle idling, imagining I could hear footsteps approaching my camp. 

What if there was a hidden camera set up somewhere?  Could they have gotten my license plate number?  Would they send a bill, and possibly a fine, to the rental agency?  Now I started worrying about the rental agency.   What did they really mean by unlimited mileage?  Was I even allowed to take the car out of state?  I was sure that they were tracking me.  In this day and age, how could they not be?

I sat there and worried until the sun came up.  Did sitting in a car worrying count as meditation?  If so, then perhaps I belonged to the most spiritually evolved nation that has ever existed.  All those millions of people sitting in their cars and worrying.  But were they counting their breaths?  Maybe, yes.  Maybe, no.  I was sitting in a car and worrying, but I was also counting my breaths.  That had to stand for something.

At one point I opened my eyes and simply drove off.  If I couldn’t conquer my energy, I could at least harness it.  There were days and miles ahead of me.  I simply had to get going.

The sky that had begun to brighten returned to slate.  I got on the 174 and then headed east on the 2 at Wilbur.  The land was barren and flat.  The highway stretched on endlessly.  I wasn’t sure where I was going.  From the looks of it, that would be Idaho.  I passed small farm towns with silos and grain elevators.  One bar with a painted cowboy outside promised live music and dancing.  I passed the Spokane Tribe Casino, and figured I’d stop in Spokane.  Instead, I just kept driving, seeing that Coeur d’ Alene was only thirty miles away.

Two reservations that I could get to that day were the Cour d’ Alene one and the Nez Perce one, both in Idaho.  I thought I might drive down to the Snake River and Boise after that.  I really had no idea. 

From the city of Cour d’ Alene I got on the 95 south, briefly pulling over at the Cour d’ Alene casino.  As someone without the means or inclination to gamble, I’ve never been interested in casinos.  So far, every reservation I’d passed through had one, so they must be doing some good, or at least somebody is prospering.  A statue of a warrior on horseback, in full headdress, raising a stick to the sky, sat atop a small waterfall, and welcomed visitors to this one.  Driving through the parking lot, I passed cutouts of a buffalo and a moose.

The sky had turned blue by now and white, puffy clouds drifted across it like grazing sheep.  I continued on my merry, frazzled way, until pulling over for gas in Plummer at the Warpath One Stop.  Everything here had a native theme.  Two buffalos stood at the door.  The ad for Seneca Cigarettes featured an Indian head.  There was a trading post selling regalia and supplies.  By the side of the store there was an old totem pole.

Cour d’ Alene, translated from French means heart of the awl.  An awl is a sharp tool used to punch holes through leather.  The name was bestowed upon the people by a French trapper who considered them the sharpest traders he’d ever met.  The reservation was established in 1873. 

Driving on through town, I passed the Tribal Police and then stopped at Benewah Plaza to pick up some groceries for the road.  Atop the sign for the plaza was a cutout of two dancers.  Granted, I’m no expert, but it looked to me like at least one of them was doing the Prairie Chicken Dance.

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