Songwriter Jackson Browne spins a tale about the ordinary rhythm of our daily lives:
No Sleeping At The Lights
Driving in the Pacific Northwest, the surrounding mountains reign over the lowlands. Their dignified mountaintops, especially when topped with snow caps, serve as a reminder that Valhalla shimmers above us.
Caught up in the harried business of the day, you swing around a corner and, for a moment, your breath catches when the mountains pop into view. For just that second, you hear the call and humming of the wide expanse of nature.
I often think of that line in Jackson Browne's song when I'm driving around in western Washington.
Veteran or not, there's no sleeping at the traffic lights here. The views are too good to be missed.
The Mountain Is Out
There's a saying in the Seattle area: "The Mountain is out" – it means the sky is clear enough to see Mt. Rainier. Given the rainfall and cloudy days in the area, this is an event worth noting among the natives.
According to Barry Popik’s etymological dictionary, The Big Apple, this phrase was referenced as long ago as August 1951 in a syndicated column in a newspaper from Illinois, the Registered-Republic:
A Mountain Greets You
On a clear day in one mountain town, Mt. Rainier welcomes you at the traffic light.
It's one of the rare times you hope that you'll get stopped at a red light, just so you can drink in the scenery.
When Smoke Fills The Sky
In the summer of 2017, a smoky haze from the wildfires in British Columbia drifted over Washington State. The mountains were obliterated from view.
If you were seeing it for the first time, you'd think there were no mountains.
For those of us used to seeing The Mountain as we drive into town, it was unsettling for it to suddenly be invisible.
A 12,000 foot mountain erased.
Below, same intersection, no hint of a mountain (no filter, no Photoshop).
The mountain is supposed to only disappear behind the clouds.
With the smoke from the wildfires, The Mountain wasn't out even though we had no cloud cover. A massive volcano had vanished, beamed into another dimension.
If you didn't know a mountain was supposed to be there, you'd never have been the wiser.
So much for our perceptions of reality.
Poetry In The Pretender
In the song lyrics in The Pretender (1976), Jackson Browne reveals himself to be a story-teller and prophet.
He reminds us of a time in our youth when we were clear-sighted and exquisitely aware. We believed nothing could stop us.
Found in his words, a wistful longing.
The story books of our lives have grown older. Page corners are yellowed. Bookbacks now have powdery flakes that spill on the floor, instead of tight glue holding them together. Not unlike our own aging bodies.
Lofty ideals pound in our hearts when we are young. Years later, we're vaguely aware of a dull aching in our chests. Smoky dreams waft around our darkened rooms at night when we can't sleep.
Did we compromise too much?
Who's to say?
It's impossible to know where we'd end up if we made a different choice. We're not afforded a glimpse into the alternate reality of a path not taken.
In the end, we say a prayer for all of us.