The high desert of the Yakima valley is filled with harvest shades of gold and rust glistening in the sunshine against a bright October sky. The fruits of the season are being plucked from the orchards and rows of orange pumpkins glower from every porch. I am heading home to Seattle after spending the weekend with family. Over the years, I have driven this route, from Seattle to Yakima and back, more times than I can count. Today, in the crisp fall sunlight, the drive home seems fresh and new, a high-speed collage of nature’s beauty.
Heading west the surrounding hills are dusty tans and sage, a moonscape of shadowy slopes stretching to the horizon. I crest Manastash Ridge and, as the highway drops sharply into Ellensburg, the irrigated squares of farmland form a green patchwork quilt spread across the valley floor. This alluring pastoral scene belies the relentless wind that whistles through the valley, whipping at everything in its path. I hurtle past, nestled in the warm cocoon of my car, happily entertained with the pleasant surprises of iPod shuffle. Further along the road, the deciduous trees give way to emerald forests of evergreens, with bursts of bright yellow maple leaves sprinkled in amongst the dense foliage. The Cascade mountain range looms in the distance, a marbled tableau of purple and blue, a dusting of snow glistening across the craggy gray peaks. Stopping for a brief rest at Indian John Hill, the wind whips at my hair in chilly blasts, hinting at a frosty winter ahead.
The forest becomes denser, thickets of evergreens pressed together in a swath of green belt running up to the mountain pass. Along the shores of Lake Keechelus, the blue-gray surface of the frigid water glints in the sunshine. I feel lucky, in a world where 1 billion people lack access to clean water, to live in a place where clear, fresh water is so abundant. Up and over Snoqualmie Pass, the ski-runs are tracks of barren earth, the lifts abandoned and ghostly, listlessly waiting for the first winter snow pack. The winds are sharp and gusty, churning in the catch of the mountain peaks. Dropping down into the foothills of the western side, clouds are caught against the mountains, stacking up to form a gray, misty cover that blots out the sun. Waterfalls gush off granite cliffs as I speed down the mountain slopes.
In the more temperate climate of the lowlands, the changing leaves display a wide range in color, from dark plums and berry tones to fiery oranges, ambers and reds, making a striking contrast against the stormy skies. As I approach my neighborhood, the sun breaks through the clouds in dapples of light, catching the brilliant yellow and raspberry-red leaves ablaze.