A History

  1. Ancient: A volcano forms in what is now the Cascade Range and Columbia River Gorge of the United States' Pacific Northwest.
  2. Ice Age: An ice dam, which had allowed water to collect in Glacial Lake Missioula, bursts, causing a deluge of water that transforms the entire Pacific Northwest. The volcano is washed away, only its core remains, leaving the second largest rock in the world, after the Rock of Gibraltar.
  3. Pre-Columbus: The indigenous people call this 850-foot tall rock Che-che-op-tin, "Navel of the World."
  4. October 31, 1805: Lewis and Clark, navigating the Columbia River on their way to the Pacific Ocean, name "Beacon Rock." Near here, they first measure tidal influences from the ocean.
  5. 1811: Alexander Ross of the John Jacob Astor expedition names the rock "Inoshoack Castle." The rock is known as "Castle Rock" until the name is "restored" to "Beacon Rock" in 1916.
  6. Early 20th Century: Henry J. Biddle purchases the rock and builds a trail to the top.
  7. 1935: Henry J. Biddle dies, and his heirs donate the land to the state as a park.
  8. March 1, 2003:

Fragments composed on Beacon Rock trail, First of March;

Where, if you stopped to listen, the trees made sounds like birds and squeaky doors,
Where the wind vibrated the strings of the trees to make the sound of trains receding into the distance,
Where the trains receding into the distance made the sounds of avalanches and helicopters.

The rough feel of rocks was like the dust and smoke in the air, which gave everything an understated glow;

Trees made windowpanes, needles curtains, framing the view,
Looking at the sun shining, low to the horizon, realizing that it had been there every day since birth but that it is forever too bright and too beautiful to see.

A desiccated brown river of dirt cut through the green to the horizon, parallel to the river, looking like the great wall as seen from satellites; a swath populated by steel trees radiating buzzing cancer.

Walking home afraid in the roar of charging cars, I stepped across a pile of bleached white bones and trash,
And the lonely snout of a daffodil cowered in the lee of a small boulder.

* * *

When Western Civilization collapses suddenly, I will liberate tools and trudge daily up this trail, removing the guardrails. I will replace the sturdy wooden platforms with rope bridges. I will stand on the top of the rock and look out at the crumbling dam and the fallen electrical towers and the river once again flowing freely. And I will feel the danger of the wind again.

You can find Beacon Rock on Highway 14 in Washington, about halfway between the towns of Camas/Washougal and Stevenson.


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