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One Dam Day

On the 4th of July we’d decided to drive the extra two hours to see the Grand Coulee Dam.  We’d driven five hours to visit friends in eastern Washington.  So two additional hours (if you’re streaking through sagebrush at 75 mph in a blue van to see the biggest dam in the country), seemed like a bargain.  We wouldn’t intentionally make a seven hour trip to anywhere–dam or no dam– with our children who neither sleep in the car nor ask creative questions about the time or the mileage.  So uh…this was it.  The Grand Coulee Dam.

Only I’d been there before and knew what to expect.  Nevermind I was ten at the time and the 4th of July Laser Light Show was cool in name only and projected stick figures of light onto the dam’s spillways.  Or that for all the anticipation of the Laser Light Show, I’d never felt such disappointment–well…except for Christmas that same year when I’d pleaded for a drum set–a real one–and unwrapped instead an ornament of a drum.  An. Ornament. But other than that, the dam experience was sitting in second.  Distant second.  The Laser Light Show part, anyway.

But my family had never seen the dam up close.  And the more I worked at describing the dam, the smaller the thing actually sounded.  But it’s massive.  And to experience the crushing sound of the spillways, bursting simultaneously with thousands of tons of water is really one of those things that sticks to the wall of your memory. One of those things you want your kids to see.  Your husband, too.  And the reason you drive slightly over the speed limit on a holiday to see it.

Only it’s the 4th of July, which we knew, of course.  And the dam and its spillways are on holiday hours.  Which means that for all the millions of tons of concrete staring back at us, only a trickle of water is spilling through.  And only a trickle will spill through until ten p.m., followed by the Laser Light Show at eleven, by which time we will be long gone, burning rubber in the opposite direction listening to someone sing his ABCs.

I can imagine given these last twenty years or so that the Laser Light Show has shaken itself up a bit and is likely nothing short of amazing. I’d like to see it.  And for the sake of the lousy trickle imbedded as my family’s only memory of the greatest dam ever built, I think we might be back. 

 Then we’ll be able to say for certain, “we had a damn fine time!”


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