Friday, November 13, 2009

Whychus Creek Hike, September 2009

(Dear readers - Sorry for my absence, but as you'll see, I was writing... for an amazing group of women writers whose presence in my life feels like throwing open a door to an entirely new landscape. I'll be back more often, now. The following piece is a bit rough, but may lead to a larger project.)

When you reach Alder Spring in the Whychus Creek canyon, you have to sit down amongst the grasses and take off your shoes for the 20 foot wade across the river bed. Had you done this just last year, you might have been puzzled by a strange sight – Alder Spring emerging from the bank to fill a rocky creek bed that upstream of the spring is completely dry.

For decades, Whychus Creek has run dry in the summer. It’s an all-too-common example of a water resource being sucked dry by too much need, without concern for the wider ecological impact within its watershed.

But the Whychus, with the minutest bit of encouragement, is back.

In 2007, the Deschutes River Conservancy bought 1.5 cubic feet of Whychus Creek water right from a previous holder. That’s barely enough to fill the creek bed, and in September, when I visited, the creek was warm from a long, shallow passage through dry desert. It’s not really enough water to guarantee the success of the steelhead that so many agencies are trying to encourage to spawn in their former grounds, high up on the Whychus, after a challenging tour up the rocky Deschutes. Still, I’m buoyed by the return of a creek, however piddling, as it seems so radically the reverse of most of the environmental news we hear, daily.

“Lynn, how cold’s the water?” I call, though I was the first of our party to step in, and I’m still shin deep in the confluence of the waters of Alder Spring and Whychus Creek.

“Suck my ass!” Lynn yells back to me, scurrying toward the opposite side as best she can on rocks slick with algae. Apparently she is no aficionado of slimy rocks. Despite this momentary tiff, Jim, my partner, Lynn, one of my favorite people ever, Siri, my nature dog, and I are having a pretty fabulous day on the weekend that I’m celebrating my 33rd birthday. I’d hiked down to Whychus Creek once before, just a few weeks previous, and promised both Lynn and Jim that I’d take them there. When Lynn showed up as the best kind of surprise birthday present, it was a given that we’d go together.

I was so taken with the canyon and all its miraculous springs, emerging from riverbanks, canyon walls, percolating straight up from the ground. There are a million tiny worlds in that very condensed space between the two walls of the canyon. The dusty high desert descends to a riparian corridor along the banks of the creeks. After the aforementioned crossing, you find yourself on an island crisscrossed by a hundred tiny springs, each tickling the roots of water-loving trees that provide unusual shady oases. Continuing on you ascend a dry cliff, and coming down again you clap your hands among thick reeds, in hopes of scaring off the rattlesnakes. And finally, under towering Ponderosas is the rocky outcropping that marks the cathedral of the confluence of the Whychus with the Deschutes, both rivers having regained their strength since leaving civilization through the contributions of those thousand little tributaries.

What I’m really excited about though, is the renaissance of Whychus Creek. I can’t help but conflate its history with my own. Just a year previous, I had been living in Portland, dreading another rainy fall. I’d reached my outer limit with my massage practice, so overwhelmed by my clients’ energies that I had no energy for myself. I was entering the dark days of recovering from gluten intolerance – a pervasive fatigue and ennui that no amount of coffee could shake. And for many years, I’d felt like there was a layer of plastic between me and the world, probably the result of two separate but terrifyingly similar losses many years before.

On the first day of rain in the city that fall, I’d looked at my partner Jim with such despair that in that instant, he acquiesced to my stated desire to escape Portland, as soon as possible. A few months later, we moved to Tumalo. Now eight months have gone by, and I am so overjoyed to be hiking, to be taking photos with my new camera, and to be sharing this amazing place with my favorite people, that it’s nearly painful.

I’m sure that there appears to be an inherent risk in our abrupt leave-taking of a city that had been our home for nearly ten years, but we had done our homework – we had friends here, brought our respective businesses with us, and knew we’d remain productively tethered to Portland. The greatest risk I’ve encountered in these months? Opening myself up to all the beauty that surround us, letting it percolate like those thousand tiny springs through what had become my personal, inner drought. The dust yields reluctantly to the rivulet, and then is rent by a cautious sprout…