Sunday 15 November 2020

Ode to Desolation (2020)

Desolation Peak is a mountain located in the North Cascade mountains in Washington state in the US. At the top of the peak is a fire lookout. Its most famous lookout was Jack Kerouac - who spent 63 days in the lookout in 1956 - and used the experience as material for Dharma Bums (1958) and Desolation Angels (1960).  Kerouac had been inspired to spend time as a lookout after meeting the poet Gary Snyder in San Francisco. Here is Kerouac's description of how he got there.  

Now I was beginning to see the Cascades on the northeast horizon, unbelievable jags and twisted rock and snow-covered immensities, enough to make you gulp. The road ran right through the dreamy fertile valleys of the Stilaquamish [Stillaguamish] and the Skagit, rich butterfat valleys with farms and cows browsing under that tremendous background of snow-pure heaps. The further north I hitched the bigger the mountains got till I finally began to feel afraid. I got a ride from a fellow who looked like a bespectacled careful lawyer in a conservative car, but turned out that he was the famous Bat Lindstrom the hardtop racing champion and his conservative automobile had in it a souped-up motor that could make it go a hundred and seventy miles an hour ...

The fellows who picked me up were loggers, uranium prospectors, farmers, they drove me through the final big town of Skagit Valley, Sedro Woolley, a farming market town, and then out as the road got narrower and more curved among cliffs and the Skagit River, which we'd crossed on 99 as a dreaming belly river with meadows on both sides, was now a pure torrent of melted snow pouring narrow and fast between muddy snag shores. Cliffs began to appear on both sides. The snow-covered mountains themselves had disappeared, receded from my view, I couldn't see them any more but now I was beginning to feel them more.

HERE is a wonderful short film by Lindsay Hagen about Desolation Peak, and Jim Henterley, one of the fire watchmen who remains in service on the Desolation Peak lookout.