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Saturday, February 12, 2011


In the middle of the night
I go walking in my sleep
Through the desert of truth
To the river so deep

- Billy Joel
The River of Dreams

I had this idea to paddle down the Willamette through the heart of Portland (actually, I got it from a canoeist I met at the Willamette Park boat ramp during a recent excursion to Ross Island)…but Monkey-Cam didn’t want to go. He and Naked Picasso think they’re going to Nepal to surprise Rudder Starboard. One of the advantages of being imaginary is that there are relatively fewer constraints regarding money and travel. Fortunately, a Facebook friend (Mr. T., but he doesn’t have a Mohawk) materialized into an actual corporeal kind of friend and we were able to set up a shuttle from the Willamette Park boat ramp to the boat ramp at the St. Johns bridge.

Willamette Park Boat Ramp 01-30-11

This is the Willamette Park boat ramp at night. But it also pretty much serves to illustrate what the Willamette Park boat ramp looks like early in the morning, which is when we started – early Sunday morning – in hopes of catching the sunrise illuminating the Portland skyline. You might as well know from the start that I’ve assembled the following collection of pictures from several different trips to the downtown area. Someone (Gayle) talked me into participating in a picture taking project (typically called Project 365), the idea of which is to take at least one picture every day for a year and post it. This has resulted in, what is for me, a somewhat more eclectic range of photo subject matter, and some of these additional pictures happily help illustrate the narrative core of a trip through the heart of Portland.

The Willamette Park boat ramp is on the west river bank. It lies about even with the south end of Ross Island. I’m not sure what Ross Island originally looked like, but today it looks something like a toilet seat liner since its insides have all been scooped out and sent somewhere else to make cement. The remaining ring of land supports the last vestiges of a sand and gravel processing plant. Having thoroughly ‘used’ Ross Island, the Ross Island Sand and Gravel Company is making some effort to restore what is left of it as their profitable operations come to an end. Meanwhile, beavers and ducks wait on the periphery, hoping to move in. Much is made of eagle couples who choose to nest in its protected areas.

Tugboat moored in Ross Island Lagoon 01-30-11

Looking towards the city from the mouth of the Ross Island Lagoon 01-30-11

Support strut for the Ross Island Bridge. OMSI and the Marquam Bridge are in the background. 01-30-11

Marquam Bridge 02-06-11

I took a lot of pictures of the Marquam Bridge, but I guess the view from the river is not its best side. It’s an important bridge though since it supports I-5. It’s pretty much the hardworking, under-appreciated ugly sister to the Fremont Bridge (which is the prettier one that gets noticed). (I know, you’re sitting there thinking, what the hell is he talking about… it’s a picture of a submarine).

Downtown Portland Skyline through Marquam Bridge 02-06-11

Saturday night it was easy to imagine that the weatherman mistook the phrase “…30% chance of showers” for “…100% chance of a Noachian deluge”. But Sunday, the only moisture to be seen, besides the river itself, was the fog that hovered over the surface of the water in the calm air. It is always exhilarating to blunder into these Goldilocksian weather conditions hidden in-between the storms of winter. The temperature was just right and my breakfast beer/Clamato beverage seemed preternaturally nutritious.

Portland as seen from the east bank (Hawthorne Bridge to right) 12-19-10

Paddling under the Hawthorne Bridge 02-06-11

Morrison Bridge 02-06-11

View from the west see-saw-able span of the Morrison Bridge 02-04-11

Looking back up the river from the Morrison Bridge (Hawthorne Bridge in distance) 02-04-11

Looking back up river to the Morrison Bridge 02-06-11

Approaching the Burnside Bridge 02-06-11
(Note: Classic Pungo provided by Luv2Kayak Evangelism Department)

Twin peaks of the convention center from west bank 01-22-11

Steel Bridge framed by the Burnside Bridge 02-06-11

Passing under the Burnside Bridge 02-06-11

The moon over the Burnside Bridge 01-22-11

The twin peaks of the Steel Bridge are echoed in the convention center’s glass towers 01-22-11

A gang of runners crosses the river on the lower deck of the Steel Bridge 02-06-11

Passing under the Steel Bridge 02-06-11

The Broadway Bridge (Fremont Bridge in distance) 02-06-11

Taking this little trip is kind of like taking a mini survey of the evolution of draw bridges. They repeatedly and creatively answer the question, “How do we get street traffic across the river without interrupting river traffic?” Seen in the soft light of a new morning, these structures invoke in me a kind of pride in our specie’s technical cleverness. It is mathematics and physics made manifest (Note: While the Fremont, Marquam, Ross Island, Sellwood and St. Johns bridges are not draw bridges, they do show the stage in bridge evolution in which it was learned we could make them really, really big instead of movable.)


From this angle, the massive Fremont Bridge looks simple and elegant and virtually sings compared to the sturdy, workmanlike Broadway Bridge’s crass bar talk (I don’t know which I like more).

Presumably real stonework holding up the Broadway Bridge. The stone pieces fit so precisely together that you cannot slip a piece of paper between them so it follows that this bridge could only have been built by ancient astronauts possessing a technology far superior to ours (yep, that’s for you Robert). 02-06-11

The Broadway Bridge has been in service since 1913, almost a hundred years. In 1913 they drove horseless carriages – cars that looked something like the Ford Model T.

From the deck of the Broadway Bridge – west end 01-08-11

Looking south from the deck of the Broadway Bridge 01-10-11

Waterfront living along the west bank of the Willamette, as seen from the Broadway Bridge 01-08-11

Looking north from the deck of the Broadway Bridge 01-08-11

Approaching the Fremont Bridge 02-06-1

Bird’s eye view of Fremont Bridge 12-23-10

Perspective from industrial area under east end of Fremont Bridge 01-08-11


During the course of obtaining pictures for The Narrative Image, I’ve come to recognize certain characteristics of the natural world that lead me to constantly update and revise the following list.

Places not to build your house:
  1. On or near a strato-volcano
  2. On or near a river pouring down a strato-volcano
  3. Below sea level
  4. In a tsunami zone
  5. On the coast in the gulf of Mexico
  6. Kansas (just kidding)

And now,

  1. Near any large river unless you live on a boat

In retrospect...

…this was kind of a crappy idea.


As logical as the displacement of water resulting in floating metal ships sounds, me and the people who rode the Titanic have an innate understanding that metal should not float.


Beyond the oversight of the city’s sentinel like skyscrapers, the banks of the river sprout harsh looking buildings and docks with various embedded high pressure pipelines hissing and steaming and releasing unidentifiable odors. Broken and slumping concrete embankments dip into the river. Abandoned campsites, marked by wet blankets and plastic bottles, speckle the muddy beaches and brush between razor wire topped fences.

The St. Johns Bridge appears beyond the stark concrete piers of the railroad bridge 02-06-11

St. Johns Bridge 02-06-11

All day I was looking forward to getting to take pictures of the St. Johns Bridge, but as pretty as it is, I just can’t seem to get an image that does it justice.

St. Johns Bridge 02-06-11

The canoeist told me that it took him and his wife four hours to get from the Willamette Park boat ramp to the St. Johns boat ramp. He said they also stopped along the way and had a nice picnic lunch. It took us about six hours and should have been faster and easier in kayaks. I guess if you want to do this paddle trip yourself and you’re in a hurry, don’t go with a photographer.

The Narrative Image NAVIGATION AID

Just a reminder:

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