Thursday, May 16, 2013

Oregon Road

Excerpted from Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Shifting Sands

I live on the beach. Here the sand shifts daily. We expect it. We watch it. The tide comes in; the tide goes out; the sand moves.
But I grew up in the Midwest. The land is firm there, solid. When someone builds a road it remains a recognizable road. Frigid winters and hot summers may buckle the pavement, but the road beneath remains something you can trust.
I love explaining Oregon road signs to Midwesterners. “Do you know what ‘sunken grade’ means?” I ask.
“No,” they say, looking at me distrustfully. After all, if they drove to my house, they saw several yellow signs warning about sunken grades.
“It means,” I say, “the road can fall away at any minute.”
The Midwesterners reel in shock. Roads are permanent, some say to me. That’s not possible, others say. You’re kidding! most of them exclaim. They look up the terminology, and learn that I’m right.
Roads out here, built on cliff faces, or over mountains, or on ground composed mostly of sandy soil, fall away on bright clear sunny days with no storms on the horizon. And no storms in the recent past. The ground slowly crumbles. The road sinks, or it doesn’t. But one day—preferably when no car is on it—the road will dissolve.
In fact, there are two stretches of highway near my hometown—one to the east, and one to the south—that the road crews have tried for decades to stabilize and cannot. Every time I cross one of those bits of road, the ground beneath me is different than the time before even if my crossings are only hours apart.
For fifty, maybe sixty years, certainly for the bulk of my lifetime as a writer, the publishing industry has been a Midwestern road. Occasionally a flood or a massive tornado will take out a section, but honestly, if a road disappears, that disappearance was something traumatic, an Act of God.
[T]he publishing industry has [become] an Oregon road.
(Read the rest at

     I used to live on the California Coast. I commuted fifteen miles to work. One year, the rains came and stayed. And stayed. And stayed. One day the four-lane on which I drove to work slid down the mountainside. A span of half a mile disappeared and the rest became unstable.
     Years later, as I was driving the PCH to Eureka, I looked to my left at a spot where it looked like a Great White shark had taken a bite out of the road. Part of the southbound lane had washed out and fallen onto the beach a hundred feet below.
     I grew up in Texas. Traces of roads that had not been used in decades were still visible and often passable. The idea that a road could just disappear unsettled me. 
     But I got used to it.
     KKR's analogy hit me with great force because of my history. I feel in my bones that she is right:

The publishing industry has become an Oregon road.

     That's the way the world is. Get used to it.

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