I set out for The Dalles last Saturday to track down some more examples of native American rock art (I'd been given a few leads - thanks Mr. Colman), but driving east on I-84, I didn't fail to notice that the Columbia River was as smooth as glass all the way from Portland to Biggs Junction and probably beyond.
This phenomenon was not entirely unexpected (witness the kayak strapped to my vehicle). The miraculous conditions persisted as I sped up the gorge. By the time I passed
, my plans to correlate
GPS coordinates with actual physical locations were mostly forgotten. The
brilliant blue water was calling to me like early morning flat water calls to
water-skiers. Note to literalists: When
I say the water was calling to me, I'm employing a metaphorical device and by
no means am I suggesting that water can actually talk. Celilo
Even my brother Fred would have a hard time managing to capsize in this.
Some months ago, wildfire danced impulsively across this
Columbia River island.
Formerly, a nearly impenetrable barrier of trees, brush and stickers lined the shore, but now, the natural fence is decimated here and there...
...with only a few elder trees, limbs now charcoal-ized in gestures of despair, testifying that fire is hot.
The singed landscape struggles to hide its scars.
All week at work my brow is furrowed - the ends of my lips pulled down into a pained grimace - but today in this thin place, my forehead kissed by the sun - my face begins to unfold - relax - and though I don't recognize the feeling, I think I start to grin.
Inhabitants of this area told news reporters that there hadn't been a fire like this one in over 50 years...
...but this scorched island is not bereft of life or beauty
I've spent so much time conversing with the fire's ghost, that I realize I will be paddling back to my launch site in the dark.
I paddle through Hell's Gate as the sun sinks behind the hills. All the while I feel as if some kind of Moses has stretched out his hand to divide the winds on either side of me... to let me pass unharmed.
High on the lips of the gorge, the sun lingers for a sublime moment.
And I am left alone...listening...
...the water calling...
...cars whiz by on the freeway, semi tractors growling occasionally...and the last of the die-hard fishermen rev their motorboats to life and hurl themselves towards the boat ramp.