Down By the River

spence here:  an excellent time has been spent in limbo. we’ve  made the most of it, by taking a vacation from our vacation!  we went to breitenbush hot springs for a good ‘ol soak to start things off. lyndi was originally supposed to meet us there with our food box, as we would have arrived there on foot, through jefferson park (accessed by the south breitenbush river trail 3375, which connects to the pct, a beautiful trail, one of the best in oregeon…just don’t  hike it before august!).  since our trails were snowy we couldn’t hike there obviously, so lyndi happily drove us all down to soak and eat there anyway.  it was a bright, sunny day and not too many people were in the pools. i worked on my tan and my fear of being naked.

we liked the river so much that day, we decided to spend some time at one of our favorite spots on the clackamas river, alder flat. we hiked in and camped for five days. since it was during the week, we didn’t see too many people–a nice ol’ fisherman, (who showed me his catch of the day at 6 a.m.–i was up anyway!), some good-hearted city folk and a random gentleman with a cool mesh tent and a mountain of firewood. we turned in early because of the mosquitoes the first night, gnats on the second night, and marathon games of cribbage the rest of the time. i read siddhartha, by herman hesse, teaching stones to talk by annie dillard, and wild by cheryl strayed (the new book just out about a woman who hiked 1100 miles of the pct in 1995–thanks mom!).  why hasn’t anyone in my whole english degree seeking lifetime of reading “made” me read siddhartha? its now on my top 5 favorite book list.  all the books were a perfect compliment to sitting by the river.  i tried to listen to what the river was saying as much as possible. i agree that knowledge is teachable, whereas wisdom is learned by living.

the river is a gift and i tried to take it in every minute i was there. being from michigan, water will always be a part of my life and heart. i could stare at it for days on end without ever getting bored–it  always has a something new to share.  the clackamas river contains some of most important historical information about the world, not to mention its emotional capacity. every drop collected and moved through the land, absorbs what it has moved through… the people, the actions, the feelings. this is not a new concept to me, but i have recently watched a really cool you tube video about researchers and their claims that water indeed has memory.

will the river remember me? how about the snow that we trudged through? will it melt away and remember our attempts? does the ocean recall our joyous surfing trials? i’ll remember.

tomorrow, we will be on our way to the desert, where water will be even more precious to me. we’ll be back at the end of july for our friend’s wedding and to start our hike at lake tahoe. thanks for reading.

Billy here: For the last week all we have been doing is sunning by the water, eating, walking, playing cards and reading. It has been a lovely relaxing time! I reread my favorite translation of Beowulf (by Frederick Rebsamen) and also reread The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. As soon as I cracked the latter book on the river bank, I mean before I even finished reading the first paragraph of the preface, a snake and I startled one another suddenly. An interesting thing, for the snake and I keep meeting through the years in many ways, and especially recently. But it was around this point at Alder Flat when I thought about the beginnings of work on a graphic novel. This was something on my mind when I was doing work earlier this year for the art show, but a story and mythology is slowly forming in my mind. I hope that over the winter the story will solidify more.

I spent a lot of time watching the rapids in the river and felt the inertia of the eyes – when the movement of long gazing at water continues after looking away from it. The silver hair of the mountain flows down in rivers. The way the light shines through the ripples on the riverbed is like subatomic beings – appearing to move cohesively together and then suddenly winking out to join the next or last ripple. If you look at the rapids, you might think water is made of droplets, separating and splashing into the air, but if you look at the calm river, you might think water is made up of smooth waves. Out here at the edge of the alders near the river, the dark cedars delicate arms arch up toward me from the forest. The wind brings the fresh scent of water and the towering trees surrounding us. The stony flat is lined with yellow and white flowers, each stone worn smooth with water. Insects of all varieties came to me. Many bit me. Walking here from the car we saw no fewer than six tiny frogs leaping out of the path.

This Alder Flat is magical. Even the falling leaves take wing and fly off in the shape of birds. Sometimes the wind plucks tiny, perfect rafts from the trees and floats them down the river for the insects. All day long and every day I keep seeing the fleeting shadows of a human or an animal, only to turn and find the trees – or the dapple of the sun in the windy boughs. The trees are taking shape and speaking. Each sound of the leaves has in my mind the coming of fantastic animals. Each shadow has the shape of shifters and beast. In the bluff across the river rises a giant lizard sphinx, forever standing guard in the sandstone.  Too little time is spent looking beyond what is initially perceived and then assumed to continue in the fashion that the mind expects; and too little time is spent examining the exact curve and person-hood of each alder, cedar, hemlock and spruce.

I watched the water for hours on end. I am thinking that we immigrants are forever indebted to the people of Turtle Island for the grave dishonor, murder and theft that our ancestors acted out. We have all suffered for their violence and greed. We will be working to restore dignity and honor of all the people for generations to come. I am thinking that we practice art not to be cultured, but to remember who we are and remembering who we are is remembering eternity, to participate in the universe and the world as part of nature, not as separate from her. This is the great mistake of the Industrial Era that is literally burning the forests and searing our crops across the continent as we speak. To take more than we need from the web affects every one in the web, of which we are a part.

We came back to the city for a couple of days to pack the van and take our friend Max back to New Mexico, where we will be for a week or so, and one of the first things I read in the paper is about the huge fires and extreme drought that is covering over half the country. The most precious resource that we have, the one thing that is life itself, we are so disrespecting that we pour our toxins, refuse and human waste into it. This week we sat near rushing water and next week we will be in the desert. If water has memories, what do you remember when you drink water?

One thought on “Down By the River

  1. Thank you both for your curious minds and the ability to the take time to be “present”. From an elder…..that is all there is. Presence. You are both speaking from the level of experience, which I think you said, Spence, is wisdom. Bravo and Kudos to you both. Oh, and throw a great big hug in there too!


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