One-hundred-sixty-four Steps

By Georgie Bright Kunkel

Who would ever believe that a couple of oldies would ever consider climbing up one-hundred-sixty-four-steps. Well, believe it. When the sun is shining brightly in the northwest anything is possible, right? It all started when my niece invited family and friends to the annual picnic on her six acre property at Long Beach. After many years of development it now looks like a county park with slide, teeter-totter, huge sand pile and covered picnic area fitted with TV and all manner of kitchen conveniences. This year was special, marking the last hurrah of yearly picnics.

Since the time for the gathering was not until 5:00 p.m. my friend and I took a mini-road trip down to Astoria where for the first time we discovered the Astoria Column rising majestically above the city. No one had told us what it would take to climb to the top so we naively entered the huge door at the base and began the ascent. My companion didn’t think I would make it up the first flight of spiral stairs so he hurried on ahead. Determined, I grabbed the metal railing and pulled myself up each step until I reached the first landing. A sign listed the number of steps yet to go. Undaunted I began the climb to the next level, resting each time as faster climbers went around me. Well, I thought, I might as well go another round and I prepared myself for the effort. After I had gone to the next landing there were people turning back in exhaustion but I persevered.

To relieve my tedium there were fourteen murals made in etched concrete to view on the long climb.
A couple with babe in arms had already gone up ahead of me and I thought to myself, “If they can do it, I can do it.” After three more landings I decided to go for broke. Can’t turn back now, right? Finally I came to the last landing and there was my companion on his way down. He was really surprised to see me making it to the top and turned and accompanied me out to the observation platform. When the much younger people looking out at the view saw us emerging from the stairway, they couldn’t believe we had actually climbed 164 steps. They began snapping pictures with their multi-use devices in hand. Can’t you just hear them showing their family back home the picture of us oldies who made that great ascent?

Looking down at the vast expanse below I was reminded that I really couldn’t fly, as much as I would have loved to join the birds flying about below. There is something about heights that stimulates the senses and gives more meaning to life on this glorious planet. Looking down, what I had considered a large city was reduced to a concentrated area of well preserved old buildings and quaint homes. Amongst them stood the splendid Flavel mansion with six bedrooms and fourteen foot ceilings built when I was just five years old. It stands as a monument to the pioneers who won the West, as it were. In 1792 Robert Gray entered and named the Columbia River making claim to the Pacific Northwest. In my estimation, the planet really doesn’t belong to any one group of people. But the explorers of the world considered anything they found for the first time as belonging to their king and country. Today we can travel without fear of being attacked by those who were here before the explorers claimed the land for themselves. Who knows? Maybe someday some explorers from outer space may come here and plant their flags and the game of winner take all will begin again. For now, let’s just enjoy the freedom we have in our great northwest.

Georgie Bright Kunkel is a freelance writer who can be reached at or 206-935-8663.

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