time does weird things to memories. sometimes it clouds them with forgetfulness and other times it infuses them with additional information that may or may not have been there during the actual experience. i think there’s a little bit of both going on here.
we woke early and set off from snohomish, facing a 12 hour drive to our next destination. i regret that i slept through the first leg of the drive as we crossed out of the cascade mountains and onto the columbia plateau where brian stopped for gas and i awoke to find the snowy peaks far behind us – just tiny jagged white bumps on the fading horizon.
my first memory of the day was of the brilliant blue skies littered with clouds that rolled across the road ahead of us like a herd of flying white buffalo and of crossing the i-90 bridge at vantage, where the columbia river becomes wanapum lake, as we headed for what seemed like a dead end into an abrupt wall of rock before turning north and then northeast toward spokane.
in this part of washington, i-90 is just a long stretch of concrete cutting through gently rolling countryside marked by crop circle irrigation and silos, and it reminded me of my wife’s family farmland near smith center, kansas.
i don’t recall a whole lot of dialogue taking place during this part of the trip and i’m not quite sure why that was. i simply remember gazing quietly out the window as the irrigated land slowly gave way to brown grasslands gradually populated with more and more trees, many of which were evergreens, as we neared spokane itself.
it was beautifully serene.
most of our trip up the northern half of the western seaboard had been in the dark and i had been asleep, not fully recognizing the shift that was taking place not just in our location but inside me. now, as we drove east, away from where those experiences had taken place i felt something i couldn’t quite explain and still can’t exactly put into words. it was as if the more the scenery changed the further away from my experience on the beach at el capitan i felt. like i was leaving god behind right where i had found him.
but his words still hung in my mind:
i am with you. even at the end of the earth.
and this thought lingered with me as we pulled into spokane and began looking for a place to have lunch. being unfamiliar with spokane we google searched and decided our best bet was to get some fast food in order to get back on the road and try to make our campsite before nightfall. we found a jack-n-the-box on west 3rd and as we made our way off the interstate and onto the side-streets we ran into an angry looking god painted onto the side of a halfway house called pioneer pathways.
and it bothered me. a lot.
mostly because in my experience the people who believe in that god have generally been church members who have in one way or another inflicted pain and suffering on me, my family, and friends. in fact part of the catalyst for taking this trip had been to escape the aching depression that had set in after my most recent encounter with such people.
i grew up with an image of god based largely on my broken relationship with my own father who was an angry and often violent man. my interactions with him taught me that if i wanted to be on his good side i should be quiet, out of sight, and never bother him with any questions. i also learned the hard way that if i didn’t meet his unspoken expectations i was going to receive his unbridled wrath.
my image of god growing up was informed by these experiences with my father. as i understood it, god was not terribly interested in me and only took notice of me at all if i did something that bothered him at which point i was sure to see his wrath poured out.
this fearful image of god dominated my entire life but it clashed with the god who had spoken to me as i dangled my legs from the south rim of the chisos mountains 20 years ago and it clashed with the god who had spoken to me again just a few days prior as i sat astride a piece of driftwood on the beach in santa barabara.
i was having difficulty reconciling this vitriolic image with the god who had spoken to me. i had an angry father. i wasn’t interested in an angry god.
i saw a video one time with author philip yancey who wrote what’s so amazing about grace. speaking of the angry god, he said: “i think for a lot of people we need to fire or at least scrub off that image of god we grew up with and discover the god that is revealed in jesus because it really is good news.”
i don’t think i could have said it any better.
after finishing lunch we parted company with the angry god and i couldn’t help but think of leaving him behind as a metaphor for actually leaving that angry god behind once and for all. it felt good. i felt free. and once again god seemed to be speaking to me without saying a word.
the rest of the drive was like a long peaceful sigh.
as we entered idaho we passed through a section of the rocky mountains and i was surprised to see many of them covered in some sort of wildflowers that gave it a distinctly purple hue in the sunlight. having sung ‘america the beautiful’ enough times i had heard of such a phenomena but had never seen it with my own eyes.
it was unexpected and beautiful, but even as we continued on our way i once again felt it was a whisper from god reminding me of his presence. we saw other such reminders as we drove into montana. from volcanic uplift along the northern pacific railroad…
to open prairies bordered by stretches of the rocky mountains…
to the rising moon over the foothills outside of missoula.
we stopped for gas in butte and while filling the tank we noticed a strange white spot on top of a mountain just to the northeast of town. we asked the lady at the register what it was and she pointed to some tourist brochures of our lady of the rockies, a 90 foot statue built on top of the continental divide after blowing off part of the original rock.
i apologize for the bad picture but we were a long way from the statue and didn’t really have time to move in for a closer look so this was what i ended up with. if you are interested in seeing just what she looks like, google can help.
as i continued to find god revealing his presence to me through his creation i wondered why it is that so many people choose to set up statues and shrines or to travel to them in order to hear from god or feel closer to him through the piety of their journey. when the entire creation reveals the glory of god, why do we insist on setting up our own handmade reminders? isn’t that how we ended up with the angry god to begin with? because we created him in our own broken image instead of allowing his handiwork to speak for itself?
i decided to dismiss the idea just as i had dismissed the angry god and instead focused on the rolling hills and countryside that was sweeping up toward another arm of the rockies to the southeast.
we reached us 287 near three forks and turned south toward our camp at hebgen lake just outside of yellowstone national park in the gallatin national forest. within a few miles we encountered a wildfire being attended by several fire fighters and emergency personnel. apparently it had been a naturally occurring fire but they were busy trying to put it out.
i remember tweeting a picture of the smoke and my friend chris, who is quite the outdoorsman, commented that “fire is good for the mountains!” and he was right. naturally occurring fires and fires purposely set by trained forest management personnel actually help the environment by removing underbrush, cleaning up dead debris, and opening the forest up to more sun. all of which helps the forest grow.
and it reminded me that sometimes in order to get rid of some of the junk in my own life, god allows naturally occurring fires as well. they hurt, but they also burn away the debris. and after spending the day in contemplation about my angry dad and the angry god he had given me i was thankful for the fire that had been burning all of that away.
as we neared our campsite, we passed along the edge of earthquake lake, the result of a 7.5 magnitude shakeup that ripped open the ground beneath the madison river and simultaneously caused a landslide from an adjacent mountain, which temporarily dammed the river, forming this lake. yet another reminder of the natural balance between slow gradual change and quick violent upheaval that god has used to give us such magnificent wonders as are present in places like yellowstone.
and in our lives as well.
we continued along the edge of hebgen lake which feeds the madison river just upstream of earthquake lake as the moon began to sink in the south.
we turned off us highway 287 onto a dusty cougar creek road as sunset silhouetted the evergreens of the gallatin national forest. the day was ending, but we reached rainbow point campground just as dusk painted the sky orange and blue above us
and the moon checked in on us as we finished off our supper and cleaned up for the night.
it was another long but meaningful day and as i sat on our picnic table enjoying the sounds of the night coming alive i was thankful for the chance to have such an experience and to share it with my brothers. i was also at peace. a peace i had not experienced in a very long time, but that had become a growing aspect of the journey.
we talked a bit over our meal and collectively wished we had the materials for a campfire and i really wished we would have had the stuff because i think we would have stayed up a bit longer and talked.
as it was we finished eating and bear-proofing the site, then retired to our tents. the strong scent of pine and the crisp night air made it feel like autumn, so i cocooned in my wiggy and closed my eyes, thankful for another day in the wild. thankful for gods peace. thankful beyond words.