Seeking balance at McKenzie Pass

Fall came early to Sisters Country but it retreated briefly this weekend, so we took advantage of a wonderfully clear day to drive to McKenzie Pass. Ray, of course, sees it regularly from his bike seat (it's 14 miles from our front door), but it was a first visit for me since last summer and the clarity of the air and the views took my breath away—and brought a much-needed respite from our current national craziness.

North and Middle Sisters from McKenzie Pass highway (5,325 feet; 1,623 m). The highway here follows the route of an 1860 wagon trail across 65 square miles of lava flow. The area is covered by about 20 feet of snow in winter. 

North and Middle Sisters from McKenzie Pass highway (5,325 feet; 1,623 m). The highway here follows the route of an 1860 wagon trail across 65 square miles of lava flow. The area is covered by about 20 feet of snow in winter. 

Visitors contribute a splash of color as they climb to the top of the Dee Wright Observatory, built in 1935 by the CCC.

Visitors contribute a splash of color as they climb to the top of the Dee Wright Observatory, built in 1935 by the CCC.

October is a transitional month, not only because the weather is changing, but because as the busyness of spring and summer wane we often find ourselves turning inward, weighing the old and the new in our lives; shedding cast-off ideas and habits as we prepare for the inevitable cocooning of winter. October encourages balance as the sun moves into Libra, and we all benefit from the season when we take time to reconsider and readjust. Living next door to such grandeur helps.

Mt. Washington, one of the oldest volcanos in the Cascades, was active between 300,000 and 500,000 years ago. The lava here is from three flows, including Belnap and Little Belnap, which are to the left of of this photo.

Mt. Washington, one of the oldest volcanos in the Cascades, was active between 300,000 and 500,000 years ago. The lava here is from three flows, including Belnap and Little Belnap, which are to the left of of this photo.

In Sisters, October marks the end of the summer tourist season. This year, it also marks the beginning of a new look for downtown. For years there has been talk of repairing Highway 20, at the heart of the community. Two years ago the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) presented a plan to local officials and business owners. Their reaction was one of horror. The plan would essentially gut the downtown during part of its busiest season, and small businesses, still struggling from the recent recession, would take yet another hit. ODOT retreated and came up with a second plan—better but not good enough. 

 

Mt. Jefferson shines in this telephoto shot. The tip of Mt. Hood could also be seen from the observatory.

Mt. Jefferson shines in this telephoto shot. The tip of Mt. Hood could also be seen from the observatory.

Eventually ODOT officials and local business owners and city representatives sat down together. They listened, and more importantly, heard each other. (While listening is passive, hearing is active—it takes effort.) Together they compromised on a workable plan. Preparatory work began in August. In early spring the highway will be shut down in block-long sections rather than all at once, and crews will work 24 hours a day. The project, when finished, will provide new sidewalks, more street trees, and a much-improved road bed; and heavy trucks will be rerouted away from the business section.

Given the destructive nature of our current national politics, it's heartening to know that citizens and government can work together to solve problems. It would be even more satisfying if House Republicans understood that coercion is not a rational way to achieve one's goals. 

The weathered face of North Sister is revealed in the sharp, clear autumn air. Can we send some of this clarity to Washington?

The weathered face of North Sister is revealed in the sharp, clear autumn air. Can we send some of this clarity to Washington?