Search This Blog

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


Sooner or later even my Dad recognized that, come spring, the yard needed some attention and the hedge some trimming. After the inexpert botanical butchering was complete and a chaos of slaughtered plants lie piled on the sidewalk, it would fall to me and my brother to load all the debris into the bed of the old orange and white Studebaker.

Then Dad would fire up the relatively newer Ford LTD station wagon (featuring less than convincing wood panel decals) and butt it against the front of the Studebaker so the jumper cables would reach. Somehow, between the three of us, all the buttons and pedals of both vehicles would finally be manipulated in concert to resuscitate the old pickup and bring it roaring to life amidst oily smoke and un-muffled mechanical despair. The fact that the gas gauge had always been broken only seemed to add a certain element of excitement to the adventure as Dad and his two little co-pilots would begin what could very well be a one way trip out to the old St. John’s Landfill where all the rest of Portland would come to dump their garbage for another decade.

Now that big pile of garbage still stands menacingly beside Smith and Bybee Lakes, its feet carelessly dangling in the water and its immense crown thinly disguised under an artificial looking veneer of real grass.

This location is where the canoe and kayak division of the Chemeketans arrived to explore what are now considered to be the largest seasonal wetlands within an American city. Chemeketa is an Indian way of saying ‘meeting place’ and was once used to describe that area of land now known as Salem. It probably isn’t a coincidence that the Chemeketans are an organization out of Salem that likes to gather together to partake in outdoor activities.

The Chemekatans I have met so far have been extremely friendly and were willing to let me tag along on what was billed as an easy and educational paddling experience. Their group is sprinkled liberally with various experts in scientific topics having to do with botany and uh…accounting, and other outdoorsy related studies. If they don’t happen to have a resident expert on the topic at hand, they often go to the trouble of befriending one.

One of the things I learned is that, as people alter a landscape, say by putting a giant landfill in it for instance or by adding little dams here and there, there are often unanticipated results. Smith and Bybee Lakes are the victims of many such tinkerings. I won’t go into all the details, but I will say that our attitude towards landscapes once considered to be mosquito ridden worthless swamps has evolved as we’ve come to understand the roles such wetlands play in purifying and straining waste from the environment and helping to mitigate flooding. Maybe think of wetlands as if they were a giant liver. Simply artificially altering the level of water in the lakes has given several invasive species of plants opportunities to proliferate.

Parrot Feather, evidently one of the invaders, originally hails from the Amazon River. If you try to kill this plant by hacking at it with a machete, all the little pieces can take root and grow, just like that broom Mickey Mouse tried to destroy in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

Several electricity transmission lines march through the middle of Bybee Lake.

The inter-lake trail includes two viewing platforms. This one, facing west on Bybee Lake seems best designed for bird-watching.

The water control device at the intersection of Smith and Bybee Lakes proved to be a frustrating obstacle to really large carp anxious to enter the lakes.

Due to sewer overflows and accumulating PCBs, carp are about the only things willing to swim in Smith and Bybee Lakes…

… oh, and Chemeketans.

Inflated water levels caused by floods or by well intended dams have had an impact on the livelihood of some trees. Over the years I’ve witnessed the gradual disintegration of this old fellow.

High waters subsequent to flooding in 1996 resulted in optimal conditions for a beaver population explosion. Now that Metro is endeavoring to maintain the Lakes as seasonal wetlands, there doesn’t seem to be as many beavers. Still, exploring the ‘fingers’ of the lakes reveals several beaver architectural artifacts, some of which show signs of continuing beaver activity.

Here is how a beaver dam looks today.

Here is how the same dam looked back in 2003.

This natural dam and its reservoir have turned out to be the staging ground for another very successful invader…the yellow flag Iris.

So much vegetable matter grows in the rich mud and sediments trapped by this dam, that it is hard to recognize that it is a dam and not some geographical feature. Water trickles over the dam at a low spot revealing its wooden stick core.

In 2003 it was much easier to tell that this was a beaver dam.

By the middle of summer, there will likely be no water here below the dam save for a beaver dredged canal system that will lead back to the main body of Bybee Lake.

Back out on Bybee Lake with Mt. Hood evident in the background.

We set out for the willow concealed passage to Smith Lake.

We didn’t see any turtles.
For more information about the Chemeketans, visit

The Narrative Image NAVIGATION AID

Just a reminder:

All text and images appearing here are protected by copyright (unless otherwise noted), s.d. 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019.