An original essay by Taylor Rush, reflecting on returning home many years ago. Enjoy!
I volunteered to take the middle seat. My boyfriend sat on my right, dozing. The woman to my left claimed the arm rest with an unyielding elbow.
I’d been traveling for two months with Devon, and neither of us knew what awaited us back home in Portland. My job had been unraveling before I left and Devon was unemployed. Our landlord had sent us a nastygram the previous week about subletting the apartment. I already missed traveling between Dutch towns on rented bicycles and drinking coffee at ten in the morning in the town square.
The seat in front of me pushed back, and I contemplated the safety message about water landings. What body of water between the Dakotas and Oregon would we find to land in?
Devon nudged my side. Out the window, the North Cascades disappeared into the distance. Furthest away, I could see Mt. Baker with its bevy of small peaks. Mt. Rainier was always larger than I expected. Closer, Mt. Adams sat in the midst of a patchwork of forests. Unlike the mountains and hills of Europe, each volcanic mountain rose from the valley floors in majestic isolation.
The plan flew. We were over the high desert of Eastern Washington and Oregon, where the sky is enormous and the air is effervescent. We were over the ponderosa pine forests that creep up the hills into foothills, with puzzle bark that grows in deep grooves smelling of summer.
We were over the douglas fir forest higher up the foothills. The snows hadn’t yet arrived for the winter, and the trees were dusty. The slanting light tinted the mountains pink, glinted off of the mountain lakes.
I could see my favorite mountain: St. Helens. She was still sending up poofs of steam. I elbowed Devon. Before we left, I had spent the summer watching Mt. St. Helens from our porch, taking photos of each small burst of activity.
The Columbia River rolled beneath us, dammed but still mighty. The plane jostled over the air that always bubbled out of the Columbia River Gorge. I squeezed Devon’s hand. The engine noise shifted and the plane began dropping back towards earth.
From the other side of the plane, there were gasps as we traveled just over the edge of Hood, the pointy mountain of our city. I knew they could see the Cascades heading south—Mt. Jefferson, the Sisters, Mt. Bachelor—lining up all the way to California.
I stretched across Devon, pressing my nose against the window, squeezing every glimpse of the northern mountains. Adams was gone and I was losing St. Helens as we dropped towards Portland. Houseboats clustered along the banks of the Columbia. Light spilled out in front of us. The sun was up. I was home.