by Sheila Robertson
Bone weary after six hours of driving, I turn into the Deadman Pass Rest Area along Interstate 84 to break away from the vibration of the road. Across the fence the fields are swept in anarchy as yellow, purple, white and blue blossoms crowd and shoulder each other in the greening meadows mantling the Blue Mountains.
Despite the rumble of diesel engines on the big rigs roaring down the four lanes behind me, I try to imagine how these meadows must have looked to emigrants fattening their cattle on the lush grasses. This is the Oregon Trail. I delight in the wagon ruts running across the fields. My journey is different, but this remnant ties me to a history and in a continuum of passage through these mountains. But the name “Deadman Pass” tints the trip with a violence that haunts me every time I see the sign.
Just two weeks ago I passed this way through rain of Biblical propor- tions. My attention was consumed with my steering wheel as my Saab hydroplaned in the washes of water slooshing over the asphalt. Overhead, the churning, grey, cloud polyps crackled with lightening. As the sign, “Deadman Pass” once again launched the darker side of my imagination, a stab of lights and a deer smeared 100 feet along the center Jersey barrier was all I could see as emergency vehicles screamed by and disappeared into a clotted curtain of water. A deer and someone else had come to violence on this stretch of road.
In January, the going was even slower as big rigs pulled over in lines of 15 to 20 to chain up. I crept along hoping Swedish engineering was a match for the icebound freeway. The journey became a commitment after La Grande, with no way to turn back. It was going to be a luge ride on both sides of the Dead Man's Pass. As the temperature readout on my dash edged downward, I felt his cool breath on my neck. Drivers churned past in four -wheel drive and the count of cars ending up in the ditches rose steadily. Snowplows worked both sides as huge flakes fell, building up an ice crust on the road and under wiper blades. Deadly beauty draped the evergreens, frosted the road signs and mounded over the guardrails.
The dead man has turned into my boogeyman as I travel this pass. Today, in the sunshine, I hope he is at peace in these fields of flowers.