The Space Shuttle Columbia disaster occurred on February 1, 2003 when the shuttle disintegrated over Texas during reentry with the loss of all seven crew members.

Saturday, before dawn, I push a coat into a backpack, water, a book, and drive east on the 91 toward the mountains, the sun a red spot on the horizon, the dashed lines of the highway a metronome clocking distance, and overhead, Columbia already lost, a shooting star split off, descending in threes.

By Riverside, the homes brighten in the lifting light, mist drifts up from the roofs, passing buildings thin out into longer stretches of fields and farms, and across the world, our nation prepares for invasion, already lost.

Colton is like the surface of the moon. Nothing but gray hills of dredged up limestone, terraced cliffs of gouged earth and, rising from the rubble, 2 kiln towers. I stop to fill the tank, strange to get out and walk, as if I’d been gone a long time, and inside there is talk of the shuttle, and of war, and, without being said, September 11th., in that way that it is always there. In the distance, the mountains are black strokes against the piling clouds and overhead, Columbia already lost, a fireworks display strewn across the sky.

Then San Bernardino at the base of the mountains, and everything up from there, up, and I begin the climb, like they climbed, with no way to look back, but trusting the earth would be there. The temperature drops, trees thicken; one pine, then two, then a circle of seven, then hundreds, thousands, like the massing of troops, and finally the first brilliant patches of snow.

Overhead, Columbia is already lost, a meteor pulling a dust-filled tail and a last glimpse at the approaching earth: the blue/green cloth of the oceans, the loose mesh of countries, as if someone could reach down and push it back together, make it fit, without injury, without retaliation.

The road curves in and out through blasted granite boulders, close enough to see the ore flow through the striped veins, and every so often, a dizzying glance below into eroded canyons. At Crestline, I pull off next to a brick fire station, and watch a group of children sledding. I count them, yes, seven, and linger to see their white mittens shining, and damp clouds of breath like halos circling their small faces.

Photo by Kurt Cotoaga on Unsplash