I grew up on the western side of Walker Pass, and I crossed it thousands of times throughout my childhood, from home, to the desert, and back again. Five days a week, every week, beginning when I was five and ending when I was 18. And after that, I crossed this pass on the way to visit my parents, and again on my way back out to the rest of the world. After my parents died, I’ve crossed the pass to visit the land on the other side, to remember, to be in the place where I learned what it means to be alive on this planet. It’s difficult to know how to review a pass, exactly. I give it five stars because it’s the pass that raised me, that saw me grow up, that watched me pass, again and again. It’s not the most striking pass, or the most beautiful pass. It’s not a pass to visit for itself, at least if you’re a tourist looking for something exciting to do. It has a few items of note: 1) The Pacific Crest Trail crosses the pass, on its way north and south, 2) There’s a marker on the pass for the early explorer, Joseph Reddeford Walker, for whom the pass is named, and 3) There’s an elevation sign letting you know it’s 5,250 feet above sea level. But beyond that, the pass’s meaning is what you make it, how it becomes a part of your life, how it gives you passage. For instance, when I was 10, a forest fire swept through and over the pass, burning piñon trees and sagebrush and Joshua trees, blackening stumps. Since then, the pass has started to grow back, with new swathes of sagebrush hiding the burn, and if you didn’t know it happened, you might not even see signs of that wildfire. But when you visit, look for the darkened stumps, the evidence of history, the signs of what is past. And one more thing: if you stop on the pass, notice how the hot wind from the desert to the east blows your hair, and how you can smell the sagebrush and dust and creosote. From the west, try to catch the cooler breeze of higher mountains, of pines and hidden creeks, willows and cottonwoods, granite outcroppings and black bears. That’s the magic of the pass: it’s a place of transition, of change. A place where you can see everything all at once, coming and going, arriving and leaving. A place where no matter which way you’re going, you’re always headed back.
Vivian Wagner is an associate professor of English at Muskingum University in New Concord, Ohio. Her work has appeared in Slice Magazine, Muse /A Journal, Forage Poetry Journal, Pittsburgh Poetry Review, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Creative Nonfiction, The Atlantic, The Ilanot Review, Silk Road Review, Zone 3, Eyedrum Periodically, 3QR, and other publications. She’s also the author of Fiddle: One Woman, Four Strings, and 8,000 Miles of Music (Citadel-Kensington), The Village (Aldrich Press-Kelsay Books), Making (Origami Poems Project), Curiosities (Unsolicited Press), and Raising (Clare Songbirds Publishing).