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TheRoadToWashtucna

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Rolling Hills of Palouse: Wojtek Powiertowski (2016)

"One goes nowhere to unburden."


I long ago noticed that every road in this part of the country seems to go to a little place that’s almost no place at all, Washtucna. Drive along I-90 between Spokane and Seattle and it seems that every exit between Sprague and Ritzville mentions Washtucna. Same story driving US395 between Pasco and Ritzville and US12 between Walla Walla and Lewiston, and WA127 between Colfax and the Pommeroy cutoff, every intersection points the way to Washtucna. It’s the center of the universe surrounding the center of the universe within which I live. It’s actually a very small and shrinking town plunked down in the center of a geographic square maybe seventy miles on a side. Bordered on the West by the mighty Columbia River, the East by the humble Blue Mountains, the North by I-90, and the Oregon border to the South, with the Snake River running its last stretch right through the middle before joining the Columbia. Within that square lies inarguably some of the finest cropland in the world and also some of the worst. Geologists refer to the stuff Washtucna sits on as scabland, basalt scrubbed almost barren by a series of Ice Age floods, leaving a dry Coulee country not quite large enough to qualify as grand, yet still plenty impressive.

Why would anyone willingly choose to take any of the many roads leading to Wadhtucna?
My reason might even make some sense. I, like you, I suspect, have long maintained a curious list of things I one day intended to do. Mine’s not precisely a bucket list of grand accomplishments I one day hope to achieve, but one of more modest proportions, just a collection of things I’ve noticed and which I one day intended to delve into more deeply. I’ve long been curious about Washtucna and I wanted to visit that little center of its own universe.

The Muse had a meeting canceled and I’d long been proposing that we just take a day and invest it in a toodle in the general direction of Washtucna. It had become a meaningful meme, one which encapsulated a modest intention. Roughly translated, I suppose it meant that I needed a meaningful drive to nowhere, one of those mindlessly mindful excursions which simply returned me to my starting point, but just a little bit richer. These sorts of toodles require some anchor, but they're best if anchored by something of little substance, not The Emerald City, but someplace much more like Washtucna. Fortunately, we just happen to have a Washtucna within easy striking distance, so on a clear and promising high Spring morning, we headed roughly North, up through our surrounding wheat country on a perfect two lane blacktop ribbon.

The Muse was musing about organizational antibodies, those defenses that always appear when even modest change threatens, for any natively conservative organization—and they’re all by nature conservative—remains more interested in preserving their identity than learning anything, even survival. Most would gladly hoist themselves upon their own petard to avoid improving anything, public rhetoric typically to the contrary. They might say that they want to learn, but there’re only lying to themselves again. They really want you to believe that they really want to learn, and will expend incredible energy emphasizing their self-deception. All this can prove wearying for anyone like The Muse who would really prefer that their employer was in any way capable of learning from their own experience. She’d been tasked with writing one of those reports which couldn’t help but threaten the sacred status quo. Her boss had called to suggest that the meeting to share that report might be best deferred until next week. She’d already smelled the sure scent of mustering antibodies. It was clear that they were bolstering their defenses to ensure that they could not hear their lessons. The Muse was letting go.

And that’s probably why we go on these toodles to nowhere, why The Gods, in their great and disarming wisdom, created places like Washtucna. One simply must get away from home sometimes, especially if one’s been sequestered and feeling almost a prisoner in their own paradise. We need some nowhere to head toward, one which might meaningfully distract us from our frustrations and distance us from our woes. I swear that every trouble’s more manageable when deliberately heading nowhere with a vengeance. When we arrived at nowhere, Washtucna, we would head back home by some different route, one which might produce some real adventure.

Over lunch, a split pea soup affair in the capitol of The Palouse, we discovered that they were allowing private vehicles to drive over the dams again, so we headed out through the bumpkin hills to cross The Snake on a Corp of Engineers project. On the other side, we followed a dirt road up through range cattle to connect with a paved road labeled Deadman, which connected us back into civilization again. We returned from nowhere feeling tons lighter. We’d been there and came all the way back again. We took no pictures of Washtucna. Returning, I couldn’t swear that we’d even been there, for we’d just passed through, the town filled with vacant storefronts and empty cafes, barely a gas station welcoming us. We had not traveled there to acquire anything. One goes nowhere to unburden. One returns lighter.

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Friday comes whether one’s gone nowhere or not, never that insistent upon accomplishments. It just comes. This week has felt particularly consequential. I finished my Authoring Series with a flourish and began this Reconning one. My M1 blew its display, so I was forced to go heads up for a few days before resurrecting my old brick of a G4 machine which cannot access my blog due to release issues. So this Friday finds me peg-legging my usual posting, managing to maintain my sacred routine by other means. I feel like I’ve been driving nowhere and back again.

I began my writing week relearning
Patience. “When Authoring hastens, it hastens incredibly slowly.”

My next posting proved impossible, due to my blown display, so I took a day off before the next day finishing my Authoring Series with a
Whimper. “Now I feel like Moliere's Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme Jourdain, astonished to discover that, untrained, I have been producing (almost) flawless (well, workable) prose, Authoring! I have been Authoring!”

I started my Spring series, Reconning, by
Beginneering. “Now, it seems I ache for sameness while understanding that my destiny will be difference and there's not much other than Reconning that I can do about that; hence, this series.”

I noticed that once I’d started my new series I had no clear idea where I might go with it, so I explained that
NextSteps tend to be emergent. “NextSteps lead into NextSteps and before too awfully long, we have a brand new dance, familiar but somehow different. This is how our world progresses.”

I reported that I have been a master at long distance living in
Distantcing. “I was one of those kids destined, I guess, to move away from home then spend my life dreaming of being back where I came from, Distantcing.”

I ended my writing week
MidnightCreeping, where I explored the context from which my Reconning ranges. “It’s first rather an embarrassment. Should I finish a piece, it sheds some shame. I post results with deep misgivings, wondering if I’ve disclosed to much or too little.”

There! That’s it. A writing week unlike I’ve ever before experienced where I missed an installment and improvised to somehow finally conclude it. It might not have been precisely a tootle to nowhere but we also might have not quite managed to end up somewhere different. I started a new series without knowing just where I was going with it. At least The Muse and I knew when we were heading to Washtucna. Thanks for following along on these toodles.

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved








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