Last month Barb and I went to Spokane for my fiftieth high school reunion, and one day beforehand we drove up to Colville, a town of about 5000 75 miles north where my dad grew up and where I was born and lived until I was five. My dad was a policeman there.
There’s a big C on Colville Mountain made of white stones, and a white cross, and Dad always told the story that he had put the C up there. When I was a boy, I just assumed that was true and didn’t pay attention to the details, but now that my dad and mom are both gone, and everything around us seems to be nothing but lies, it was important to me to find out if that one story at least was true in fact.
So Barb and I went to the historical museum in town and asked, and they took me back into the archives, and after about twenty minutes or so, they found an article about how the C got up there. And the first name I saw was my dad’s.
Not Everything is a Lie
Dad always said he put the C on Colville Mountain,
and he did, when he was student body president,
in 1948. We drove to Colville and asked.
We saw his name in a book. He led the group
that gathered the stones and painted them white
and laid them out in a great half-circle.
Later a tall white cross was raised above the C,
though now the town has moved it
to the side onto private land, but you can
still see them both from miles away as you come
around the bend from Chewelah, by the barn
that has always been falling down.
Further north the lakes
are cold and clear.
Of course, like every other poem in the world, and like every important moment in our lives, this poem isn’t just about what it’s about. The details always point a great mystery, to the mystery of the cross on the mountain, to mystery of a single letter, to the mystery of the lakes further north where the water is cold and clear.
It’s not hard to think of signs and symbols when you’re coming around a bend and see a giant letter and a great cross—a cross, he symbol of all the symbols we most hope is true, however we have moved it to the side.
So there’s a paradox here, for me and for all us, because though I long for something I can pin down and prove, what I really found on this trip is something much larger. What I found is the mystery, something greater than my own story or my dad’s story or yours but that we are all a part of.