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Saturday, January 16, 2016

My Tenuous Connection to Water

In the summer I seek out shade.
In the winter, I get in touch with my inner flower.

If the winter sun should happen to poke a finger through Portland's perpetual cloud ceiling, and if the wind is not blowing at gale-like velocities, I'll throw the kayak on the truck - well O.K. - I'll strenuously leverage it onto the ladder rack (all the while making old man sounds) and head for a nearby river or lake. 

This is how Smith & Bybee Lakes looked two weeks ago. The fickle sun had stopped diddling the clouds by the time I got to the lake, but I had been taking steps to make friends with the rain, even if my camera had not...

...and so I launched my kayak anyway and enjoyed the spectacle of cat-like clouds stalking the Willamette valley, looking for some dry place to lie down.

Sunday, the Sun wasn't teasing anymore. It grabbed the cloud ceiling firmly in two hands and yanked (like a housekeeper yanking the sheets off a hotel mattress) to uncover a radiant blue sky that went all the way up.

But this time, Metro's canoe launch at the East end of Smith Lake didn't come anywhere near to reaching the water, so I drove on to Kelly Point Park and launched into the Columbia Slough from their dirt and gravel boat ramp.

A man in a canoe exiting the slough reported that the tide influenced water had stopped retreating. Anticipating minimum resistance from the Willamette, I chose to head up-river.

The surface of the water started out smooth like a mirror and doubled the number of suns, the lower one flickering and blinking like a strobe light. No matter how I folded the edge of my stocking cap or how low I pulled it over my eyebrows, I was unable to devise a satisfactory brim. While in the gaze of the sun, one could almost believe it was spring. I squinted back into the blinding light, my right eye all closed like a pirate, salty forehead sweat following creases to the corners of my eyes...

...until, sun-tears leaking down my cheek, the river relented and turned a bit and the sun stepped a few more degrees off towards the horizon, and a tiny breeze shattered the river-mirror into amorphous infinite pyramids that scattered the sun's binary stare. I regained my vision.

Once the sun set behind the West Hills, the wind - the real wind - escaped from wherever it had been confined for the day and raced down river to tease me about not wearing my dry suit. The wind's henchmen, the rolling waves, pushed me around to see if they could get me to cry.

Compared to my old Tsunami, I felt vulnerable perched atop the sit-on-top. Wind spawned waves rose out of the long fetch stretching from distant Swan Island. These amplified waves with their impressive running starts would eventually collide with equally impressive bow wakes of loaded barges being pummeled upriver by  tugs . Those waves, in turn, were reflected off various concrete retaining walls resulting in a dynamic chaos which is fun in the summer but less so as dusk falls over very cold water. Since my confidence in my ability to stay upright in a kayak has been pretty much shattered since last summer's John Day trip (when I toured significant portions of the river upside-down), I hugged the shoreline to hide from the wind and made sure I could swim to shore if necessary. When I could recognize them, I steered into the biggest waves, but mostly I just kept on paddling because feeling the water's resistance against the blades of my paddle connected me to the river.

Presumably, this architectural feature was implemented on purpose.

Dark shadows cast from the West Hills chased the last of the day's light up these towers and scared it back into space.

Empty piers with their piling teeth collaborated with tugboat wakes to hamper my progress. I appreciated the wind's inclination not to chase me into darkness.

Without cloud cover, the last of the day's heat radiates out into space inspiring me to apply a wind-proof layer to my ill chosen Spring ensemble. Keeping a wary eye out for tugboats (one is visible to the left of the pilings on its way upriver), I also utilize this brief pause to rig my boat with its running light.

Lights blink on against the fading pastel colored sky. The scene seemed  vaguely Hopperesque to me and I expected to see Dean, Monroe, Bogart or Presley leaning on the railing.

From these outposts, we launch our grains and goods across the Pacific. The scale of our man-made creations is overwhelming when inched up to in a 14 foot plastic boat, but standing mutely beyond the Washington shore, the blasted rim of Mt. St. Helens is a blunt reminder of geologic time scales - how an Earthly burp and shrug can make our efforts moot.

The Portland taking on grain at the Port of Portland in Portland.

If the dust that was blowing over the side of this ship wasn't some kind of wholesome grain...then I'm probably going to get cancer.

Editor's Note: Alert viewer Bernadette gleaned the following information from Kenny Macdonald, Marine Media Relations Manager.
"Thanks for your interest in the Port of Portland. What a lucky day for Scott to see the bulk carrier "Portland" at the Port of Portland! You can track its progress here:

What we are looking at is the 57,000 ton ship at the Port of Portland’s Terminal 5, berth 501 loading at Columbia Grain Inc. for export. At the end of November, year to date totals for Columbia Grain was 2.26 million metric tons of product; mostly wheat, but also barley, corn or soybeans.

Indeed, many of the barges you see going up and down the river are loaded with grain bound for one of seven, deep-water grain terminals on the Columbia or Willamette rivers, including this one at the Port of Portland. The export of agricultural goods, especially wheat, are a big part of our state’s economy. Check out this page about T-5 and our recently-released wheat video!"

I finally reached the kayak launch at Kelly Point park and staved off the presentation of my Darwin Award for yet another day.

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