Monday, April 19, 2010


YEARS AGO, following a misplaced directional sign way to hell and gone out in the woods, I ended up on a road that I hadn’t intended to take. Yesterday, I found that road again. This time, with intent, I took it.

Lost in the region bounded by Colfax, Iowa Hill, Sugar Pine Reservoir and Foresthill, Shirttail Canyon Road, doesn’t really go anywhere. It simply follows a creek in to and out of a little eight-mile long ravine. There was no point A at one end; no point B at the other. No village or berg or derelict mining camp anywhere along the route. No alpha. No omega. No reason at all, that I could see, for this particular road to go in this particular direction. To be certain, there are better roads – smoother with more engineering – in the immediate area.

I MAKE SEVERAL STOPS to explore things I might otherwise miss if I simply raced by.

A wonderful cluster of bush lupine – actually several of them – clung to the top of the cut bank on the uphill side of the road. Dismounting a moment, I scramble up the little bluff to examine the blossoms and to uncover that hidden claw for which the lupine derives its Latin name. I snap a digital photo which comes out remarkably well.

A few hundred yards on, one of perhaps dozens of spring rivulets seeps down the mountainside, running through thick, verdant moss. After a week or two of dry weather, this moss will turn brown and disappear until the rains return in winter. I touch the spiraling, spongy leaves and let the water squeeze through my fingers. Then I struggle to pull my riding gloves on over wet – and now cold – hands.

At a point, an ancient madrona is locked in battle with a black oak. Roots entangle one another, wrapping around a slate-like chunk, grasping for nourishment from the scant soil in this rocky terrain. Limbs stretch skyward seeking the energy of a sun that rises and sets within mere hours deep in this canyon.

A doe that has chosen to run along side for a few yards surprises me.

Poison oak grows vigorously in select spots.

Then there’s the suspension bridge, built probably a hundred years ago, still in rickety service to the rare passer-by. It swings and gives and sways side to side as the weight of the motorcycle clatters across the ancient steel decking, warped by a century of travel.

AS I RIDE, I think about story. I think about the elements that go into writing a compelling piece. A piece with an arc. A story line. I recall that every element the author places into his or her text must contribute or move the story forward. When editing, one must jettison those words or phrases that don’t move the reader from point A to points X, Y or Z. A difficult task for a writer who has given birth to those words he or she is about to axe.

Then my mind wanders back to this road. There is no point A or point any-other-letter along this route. Perhaps it is a road with no story. No place names or passions. No human drama. No life or death quandaries.

When all was said and done, my ride down the Shirttail Canyon Road really didn’t take me anywhere. However, I wouldn’t have wanted to miss the lupine, or the cascade, or those tangled roots, or that jiggly, antiquated suspension bridge. Like a good story, once I’d descended to the other end of Shirttail Canyon, I knew I’d been somewhere.

© 2010
Church of the Open Road Press

1 comment:

  1. Like the "of blue sky and dry pavement" photo. Clearly a Mr. B lying on his back on the ground original.