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16 November, 2011

Skagit Air

Two pleasures make the thousand-plus miles of driving I do each month bearable, and occasionally sublime. Both come through the air to me, or any other driver with eyes and ears: photons bouncing off scenery and radio waves broadcasting from towery.
To round a bend and see snowy tors, trees towering as forests blanket, water racing to the Salish Sea, spring and fall foliage, and, and, and. To see any of those, especially on some blue highway where you can pull over or slow to landscape pace, is to experience anew wonder, which I guess is why I pity people who think epiphany is a rare thing.

The radio, it's more something to wile away the miles. Satellite radio remains in my future (and even then, only maybe), the tape deck in the truck beckons my past and finds that all the cassettes were dumped before last move (a collection ranging from Richmond hardcore punk bands to some Dead and Allmond Brothers foisted on me in college to, uh, memory grows dim now). I drive a government rig, so there ain't no fancy stuff like a CD player. 

So, it's radio, which suits me fine. I tend to go with community stations (KAOS near home, KBOO nearer Portland, KSER in Everett,...), or cherrypick from the wide array of public radio. Now and then, a college station comes in (like coming down toward CWU from Blewett Pass). In some places, classic rock is the only thing better than country or religious stations. The latter of which I sometimes listen to, believe it or not, because  it's good to understand what people hear, especially because Christians operate the most powerful transmitters in marginal areas and are the only thing to listen to.

But usually by that point, traffic has let up, scenery holds its own, and the radio is off. 

Last week, I found myself running north and downstream (mapheads may already have guessed that this is along the Sauk toward its marriage with the Skagit), already in shadow as the sun settled its way down past the islands. But the sky was clearer than smart people expect at this time of year, and as I hit the final stretch, the moonrise came into view. The photo above is from the Skagit River bridge, and cannot come close to capturing the beauty. Moonwash on fresh snow, the river sluicing the old snow seaward beneath me. River trees hugging leaves close, claiming a few more nights of their warmth before skeletonizing for the winter. I hung a U and drove back over to see it, stopped, rolled down the window, took some photos, breathed river air, rolled on and did another and idled leisurely back across before heading down-valley. 

The moon smiled in my mirror between the trees when they'd let her as I sped into the fading sunset. Then she rose above them, and the ridges and even the big peaks with names like Little Devil and Big Devil, Mount Torment and Forbidden Peak. Shining unshrouded, moonbeams free to play on rapids and pools, boughs and bergs,...and in my rearview mirror. 

Even though I was enjoying the scenery, it was getting dark, draining color and making it harder not just to look, but to drive safely on a road more traveled. Eyes on the road, ears took over, and I tuned to Skagit Valley Radio, KSVR 91.7. I'd heard them before, and besides my bias for community radio, had found that they possess a miraculous thing: a broadcast range that reaches way up-valley, farther than you'd expect for anything other than religious stations (and maybe some brute force commercial transmitters, but I don't get to that end of the dial much). It's always a joy to be way outside of town and hear something other than Christian radio or its more commercial colleague, Country.

Eventually, I got back to what passes for civilization these days and had to face I-5. As I climbed the on-ramp, a Seattle station played the cruel joke of starting a Fresh Air episode promising to blow the lid off everything we think we know about canine domestication, and then a minute replacing it with some lame-ass big-C culture thing. I know that they'd played the dog one the night before, but the radio spell was broken.

But the moon was still there, shining in my window, lighting a few wispy clouds. I stole some glances while trying not to crash or be crashed all the way home.

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