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Sunday, July 10, 2011


Maybe it starts with an archeological sketch in a book…
…snippets of conversation in a bait shop…
…river guides telling a story…

Ordinarily, water courses through the bottom of canyons, but here, opportunistic desert vegetation greedily converts all available moisture into an impenetrable jungle.

We end up with information one would expect to acquire at the end of a game of telephone – information whispered from connection to connection until it is all but unrecognizable.

…walk half a day up the canyon…
…look for a rock shelter…
…3 meters high by 20 meters long…

It’s the kind of thing where having the skills of an investigative reporter would come in very handy.

So we set out…looking for the path of least resistance…trying to skirt the jungle of stickers, nettles and jumping ticks by clinging to the sides of the canyon.

Game trails crisscross the slope, but whatever made these trails has little respect for gravity and is more interested in grazing than in arriving at a predetermined destination. The cost in energy to follow them is high.

Every talus slope teeters at the critical angle of repose – a booby trap waiting to sweep careless bipeds away in rock avalanches.

We continually run the cost/benefit ratios and occasionally choose to dip down into the jungle.

Armed with a machete, I hack out a path next to the rock wall, but the going is slow and the stinging nettles have a diabolical tendency to fall on my arms in retaliation. 
Wikipedia says this about stinging nettles: The plant has many hollow stinging hairs called trichomes on its leaves and stems, which act like hypodermic needles that inject histamine and other chemicals that produce a stinging sensation when contacted by humans and other animals. Wikipedia goes on to say: The plant has a long history of use as a medicine and as a food source.

It never once occurred to me to try to eat a stinging nettle.

Troy sagely notices that we can cover more ground if we split up.

Peering into the green hell.

Eventually, the jungle really does become impenetrable, and I climb out of the humid darkness to find shelves – a veritable super highway – lining a massive Rincon.

WILD TANGENT: Sometimes, when people encounter beautiful landscapes – vast natural panoramas – awe inspiring features like waterfalls - they report a sensation of feeling spiritual, or having a transcendent moment, or even being closer to god. Sometimes I even have ‘transcendent moments’ (see My Transcendent Vision at Netarts Bay) but I’m trying to figure out why I perceive such moments that way. Now this landscape was not so beautiful except for two things. (1.) It was somewhere between three and four o’clock in the afternoon and as hot as it was going to get that day and I had just come out of the jungle, covered in sweat and stinging-nettle-histamines, my arms disfigured with a blotchy red rash, and rounding a corner, this curving section of cliff was entirely in shade. (2.) There were layered shelves of stable rock, wide enough to walk on in comfort - and…um…except for three things - (3.) A cool breeze.
I was tired, and wondering how long I could go on, and then suddenly, it was as if the very earth itself sheltered me and wrapped me in shade, dried my skin and provided safe passage. Suddenly I felt energized and optimistic. I think I also felt, just briefly, like I fit.
But the earth hadn’t changed. The jungle was still hot and the shade was waiting there all along and the same goes for the terrain. All of my feelings appear to be the result of responses to events that happened on my unique path through time and space. In short, my personal narrative – my interpretation of my physical encounters – creates a subjective fiction.

Then faintly…I hear yelling from around the corner. Then Troy appears. “I found it!” he yells.

A massive basalt layer cake forms the wall of the canyon. Evidently accelerated mechanical erosion at the level of the creek has created an overhang/shelter that stretches almost a hundred yards.

At the south end of the overhang, there is even a deeper impression that comes close to matching the vague description of the shelter we’re looking for.

Indeed, the alcove is decorated with paintings.

Isolated paintings can be found further north along the overhang.

If Shamans set up shop here, maybe it should not be surprising to find a wealth of plants (like stinging nettles) which have medicinal properties.

Now it is time to rest and eat.

Why bring a multi-tool Swiss Army knife when you can bring a multi-functional Army Man instead.

mmm…wild boar.

Mission accomplished.

Friday, July 1, 2011

My "Personal Relationship" with Smith & Bybee Lakes

Paint a man’s house and he’ll have a nice painted house for about four years.
But teach a man to paint and he’ll be able to make his canoe look like a fish.
-Old Chinese Proverb-

“So…” devil’s-advocate-Scott leads off, “…how do you have a personal relationship with a wetland area?”
“Well…” I reply, “…it isn’t quite as complicated as having an imaginary dialogue with yourself, or believing in an invisible living God who was executed (briefly) in a political dispute with first century Romans…but…I guess what I’m really describing is a certain familiarity with a physical area developed over time.”
“I see,” says devil’s-advocate-Scott (hereafter simply Rational Scott or R.S.), “you’re simply anthropomorphizing the wetland area.”
“I wish you wouldn’t be so dismissive.” I say, sensitive to the smug tones accenting Rational Scott’s immediate conclusion. I continue, “This metaphorical framework for relating to an ‘area’ as an organism may not be entirely unfounded – that is, it may lead to knowledge and understanding – I mean, it’s not out of the question…entirely?” The certitude with which I began my speech slowly dwindled away under Rational Scott’s scrutiny, his eyes laughing beneath comically furrowed brows. Sadly, what I hoped would be a statement finishes as a confidence-less question.

At this point, a wise man would probably just drop it…but it’s me after all, so I keep on talking.

Chris preparing to perform a magic trick – he’s going to make that beer disappear.

I guess you could say it all started when Chris stood up in his canoe to take a piss and tipped over into the water. This made him considerably less enamored with the canoe, and he ended up trading it for my Atari Jaguar, Sega Genesis, and 80 dollars cash. Those particular game consoles date the transaction to approximately 1995.

That’s about how long I’ve known Smith and Bybee Lakes.

That’s a pretty long relationship for me.

Metro’s kayak launch path – almost wholly underwater.

Over the years, I’ve become familiar with their many moods…and come to understand how they are affected by the seasons. For instance, right now, they’re burning the candle at both ends during these longest days of the year, and putting up with a serious water retention issue.

There’s a nature trail that loops around a short peninsula that juts in-between Smith Lake and Bybee Lake. This observation structure on the east (Smith) side of the peninsula is up to its handrail in water.

…and the path leading to it is also submerged.

When the region's winter supply of water is still tied up in the mountain snowpack, the trail looks more like this.

But this spring, melting snow and endless rain have resulted in a path that looks like this.

The bird-blind on the west (Bybee) side of the peninsula is also standing in water.

Comparison shot

Invasive species continually vie for dominance in an eco-system beset by the challenges of being in proximity to vast numbers of people. Despite weeks of flooding, purple loosestrife manages to keep its head above water.

Last year, some channels were completely clogged with it.

And other plant species worked at converting all the water to biomass.

As the importance of wetlands has become understood – its capacity for filtering and cleaning water, its contributions toward flood control and its ability to support diverse wildlife – Metro has made enlightened efforts to impose the seasonal variation of water levels on the area through the installation of a water control structure. While not a perfect science, they do their best to mimic the natural rhythms of seasonal wetlands.

This piece of ‘designed’ wood brings me the message that the water control structure is currently not exercising much control.

The water control structure is completely submerged on my 06-25-11 visit.

Water was already rushing into the lake from the Columbia slough as early as

In August of 2009, water levels were considerably lower.

One of the characters I met at Bybee Lake.

He used to tell better stories in his younger days, when he still had limbs for gesticulating.

Another invasive species – the yellow flag Iris.

These things may look delicate and fragile but are every bit as resilient as those broomsticks in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

The Force is strong with this one.

I think this is beautiful.
But I don’t know why I think it’s beautiful.
I used to wonder if maybe preferences for landscapes (lakescapes?) were written into our genetic code somehow – perhaps some instinct that leads us to environments rich with life. I tried to research it a little, but the general consensus is that, given our origins, we’d likely be attracted to landscapes that resemble Africa’s savannahs.

But then again, we have the capacity to supplement our ‘instincts’ with the memory of our experiences (plus those memories available to us from our cultures) and we can play the ‘what if’ game, like, what if I had a fishing pole, or what if there are deer trapped on that peninsula or …remember that last time I caught a big catfish…wasn’t it on blue water as smooth as this where startled carp slapped the bottom of the boat, just like they’re doing now?

The sun presses against the back of my neck with almost tangible fingers, intent on tanning my hide – that is, intent on converting it to leather. I paddle in-between the wading trees and float in the cool air beneath the forest canopy. Here where the trees respire, I feel as if I partake in the breath of life.

Volumes of air move purposefully across temperature and pressure gradients as the sun withdraws its face.

I look for the ribbon that marks my route through the trees to the shore.

The Narrative Image NAVIGATION AID

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