It’s been said that the opening of the North Cascades Highway on Sept. 2, 1972, forever changed the culture of what had truly been a rural valley at the end of the road. However, it wasn’t the first time the culture had changed in this environmental jewel of mountains, rivers and valleys.
Thousands of years ago, the Methow people — the First People — settled in the same areas people live today. They considered the grand spires of Washington Pass pillars of spiritual belief: The Watchers. Who of us who have traveled the highway through some of the most rugged and magnificent country in these United States have not been in awe of The Watchers?
As many who make the trip to the “other side” to see friends and family, my husband and I made one of the last treks over the passes before the highway was closed for the season. It was the latest in the year that we had ever done so. As we drove cautiously around the curves, ever aware of the possible presence of black ice, I thought about how that highway demands our attention in every way.
Sadly, over the years, many have not realized the need for hypervigilance and have not negotiated a curve, disappearing over the edge. This past summer, a young man was lost in this manner and may not have been discovered for some time except for an observant highway patrolman who saw something that didn’t look right. Others have miraculously survived these kinds of crashes.
I have a plan where I’m going with this, so bear with me.
A few days ago, a tragic accident of this type happened on Whidbey Island. A father with his 4-year-old twin daughters in the back seat veered off a rural road for an as yet unknown reason. The car barreled down a steep embankment, striking several trees before coming to a stop. The father did not survive his injuries.
The twins saw that their dad was hurt badly. They managed to get out of their booster seats, crawl through a broken window, and climb up a steep embankment of approximately 200 feet in the dark to the road above. One report noted that they were shoeless. Fortunately, a Good Samaritan saw them standing on the side of the road and took care of them while waiting for authorities. They kept saying, “My daddy, my daddy.”
What strikes me here is how 4-year-olds could make such a decision and then overcome the fear of climbing through dark, scary woods with thick underbrush to find help. We teach our children many skills at a young age to survive in an unpredictable world, but, for my part, it was not in my portfolio to teach my sons what to do if they were in a car wreck down an embankment.
These girls must have been mature and intelligent for their age to realize they were in an unsafe situation and do something about it. I also wondered if being twins was another factor. The adage that “two heads are better than one” comes to mind. At any rate, a terribly tragic situation had a wonderful miracle wrapped up in it.
So, the North Cascade Highway closed for the year on Wednesday, Dec. 11, and we in Mazama are once again at the very end of the road. The Watchers can now enjoy their solitude, peace and quiet, until the steady stream of cars and trucks and things that go starts up in the spring.
Postscript: The Mazama Community Club offers a free movie complete with popcorn a few times a year. With a plethora of movies available — our very own cinema, TV, streaming, DVD rentals, and library checkout — why would one go to the Community Club? It’s all in the name: it’s community! It’s sharing the experience. Last week, my husband and I showed up to watch “The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!” filmed in 1966. Though goofy as all get out, it was hilarious and fun to laugh unabashedly with other Mazamans. It doesn’t get much better than Carl Reiner, Jonathan Winters and Alan Arkin!
Postscript two: There was a 4-year-old girl in the movie who had no problem with the Russian wielding a big gun at her family. She asked him what his name was. I believe that after a car wreck, she would have climbed out of her booster seat (which we didn’t use in those days!) and up an embankment.
Next up: Smile. It’s that time of year.