Friday, March 09, 2007

Pullman's Pull (Special Guest Post - Part III)

Here is the much anticipated final installment of "Pullman's Pull" by Jeff Worthy. Enjoy! - Jana

"...My final, most necessary reconnection comes on the last night I am home. I wait, as I did so many other nights when I was younger, until my parents are well asleep. I step out onto the front porch, the streetlight on the corner of my parent’s property casting shadows all about me, shadows into which I will soon blend. Across town on College Hill, two brilliant red eyes like those of a giant owl stare back at me knowingly; two of the four faces of Bryan Hall’s clock tower. It sings to me then, the same sixteen chime song it has sung since my childhood, followed by eleven bell tolls to mark the top of the hour. “It’s nice to be back,” I whisper in response. I then slip down across the yard and set out on my nocturnal journey through the deserted streets of Military Hill. There is one last place to visit, and something there I feel I must obtain.

Beside the tolls of the bell tower, there are so few sounds in Pullman at night, especially in the summer. In late August you can hear the rock music from Greek Row as it echoes across the valley from College Hill--but not this night. What traffic there is is minimal, and it is downtown or on the campus, not very audible from the residential streets surrounding me. Crickets here and there, a passing car every twenty minutes or so; a soft breeze rustling the branches of the trees; that’s about all you get.

As I move through the streets, I use as many back roads and off-road short cuts as I can. This is a sacred pilgrimage for me, not one to be shared. I need to be alone. I emerge from the shadows at the crest of Hall Drive, and then I see it--the Pullman Tower. Not the Bryan Hall clock tower, but the water tower--my tower.

It looms over the campus of Pullman High School on the city’s northwest edge, a giant alabaster cylinder guarding Pullman’s border. The name “pullman” is painted around its base, twice, in blue, lower case letters, the two “l”s stretching to its top on either side, where red airplane warning lights pulse like the eyes of a slowly blinking bat. On this night, the light of the full moon gives the tower an almost fluorescent glow. Does it know I am coming? Of course not; thoughts like that are just the romantic musings of a quiet and sentimental man who cherishes the bastions of peaceful solitude he frequents, past and present. I press on.

Ten minutes later, I stand at the tower’s base. “Hello, old friend,” I whisper. I toss a stone against its chipped surface, and the tower responds with its characteristic voice, a sort of laser-blastish sound straight out of “Star Wars” that echoes for several long seconds before fading back into introspective silence ( I don’t usually throw rocks at my old friends, but the tower’s okay with it; we have an understanding). To my dismay, I notice then that what at one time was the best sled run in the city, the hill sloping away to the tower’s east, is now a fully landscaped housing development! What a loss to the kids around here, I think, sitting down in the waist high grass overlooking P.H.S. I lay back, gazing up at the expanse of the galaxy above me, listening to the gentle rustling of the night breezes as they sweep through the grass all around. I breathe in and out slowly, luxuriously. My fingers dig into the ground beneath me, immersing themselves in the rich, fertile soil of the land from which they originally came. The Palouse and I are one, once more.

A warmth, a primal power then enters through my hands, slowly spreading through my body, renewing strength and spirit. It is the same power that drew me here, but where that was but a single, distant voice calling me home, I hear now the full chorus of this country in the voices of the wind, the fields, and the very land on which I lay. So--is this just my imagination? Is my brain just fantasizing about some strange enchantment straight out of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien? I don’t think so. A deep, spiritual connection with the land is certainly not unknown among many cultures of the world, and simply because I belong to an era in which this sensation seems to hold less sway, it doesn’t invalidate the fact that I feel this connection, where others who choose to distance themselves from it do not. It is their loss. Western culture is dominated by materialism and feelings of isolation and separateness. We are losing our connection with the land, considering ourselves to be separate from, and often superior to, nature. The arrogance and utter stupidity of this mindset frustrates me, and soon enough, we will all be paying the price. Enough of that for now, as I don’t need to step up on my global warming soapbox in this essay. As for the connectedness I feel, it is very real to me, and I welcome it.

I lay there in the shadow of the Tower for some time, my reluctance to leave as potent as the instinctive sense that originally brought me here. However, knowing I have a long drive the next day, I fight against the emotional stream working to hold me down and sit up, pulling my hands free from the soil. One of them holds more than the rich Earth that gives life to the crops of the Palouse; it held a stone. A two inch long, pockmarked piece of vesicular basalt, native to the region. I sweep away the larger, loose clumps of dirt from its surface, polishing it lightly with my fingers. It is unremarkable; irregular in shape, rough in texture, vastly different from the smooth, multicolored beach pebbles I had collected from the Semiahmoo Spit back in Blaine. A piece of my soul’s home, small pockets of native ground embedded in its surface. A gift to take with me; The Tower Stone, which to this day helps reestablish my connection to the Palouse when homesickness strikes.

I slip the stone into my pocket as I stand up, brush myself off, and turn to the East, looking out over Pullman High to the fields beyond... to Colfax... Washtucna... Othello... Vantage... and eventually my wife and children who wait for me in Birch Bay, where my life’s choices have led and keep me.

The question has of course crossed my mind: should I return to stay? So much of what I am is tied to the Palouse Country. It right to be here. It isn’t that easy, though. I am established in Blaine; we have created a life there. Whatcom County has special beauties of its own, no doubt imprinting themselves on my children as Pullman’s beauties and spirit did me. Can I deny them that sense of home...the only one they have ever known? Moving could prevent Blaine and Birch Bay from ever being able to pull them home; I could sever a spiritual link with the only land they have ever had the chance with which to connect, and for what? Pullman, to them, will mean nothing but the hot place in the East where Grandma and Grandpa live. Hopefully, I will be able to take them to the places where their ancestors, on my side, lay interred in the Palouse, teaching them of one half of their heritage when the time is right. But for them, a home the Palouse will never likely be. My wife would never leave the water anyway, the Snake River not easily replacing the Puget Sound.

I remember standing in this same place beneath the Tower the night before leaving for Blaine for the first time to settle there. That was 15 years ago. It was a bittersweet time. I looked forward to the new challenges and opportunities ahead, and wept for what I would be leaving behind. To this day, when Pullman the rolling hills swallow Pullman in my rearview mirror, I still weep. On reflection, this is good. The thought that one cannot truly appreciate something until it is lost occurs to me again as the home of my soul recedes in the distance. Would I revere the Palouse, and Pullman itself, near so much had I never come to know what it was like to be separated from them? Would the feeling of returning ever truly have been felt as strongly as it is today? Perhaps it is the loss of a place we love that truly brings that love to its greatest intensity. Can we ever go home again? Yes--so long as we never truly leave it in spirit. Always--always--return again. - Jeff Worthy