Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Multnomah Falls Still Roar

Monday Sept 25, 2017

I must write this while it is raw.

When I read that the firefighters where striving to save the bridge over Oregon’s Multnomah Falls my heart ached. The bridge! A fire decimating the forest around Multnoma Falls? It can’t be.

When I was eight years old I saw the falls for the first time, and our love affair was instant. I thought it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. And over the years we often hiked to the bridge and looked over its cement railing to the tumultuous water spurting out beneath us. When I was a kid we drove up the Columbia River Gorge, past the falls, to Portland. Now we live on the west side of the gorge and last Sunday my husband and I drove down the always exquisite gorge to our little home town of The Dalles.  

Mulnomah Lodge, a stone structure with a cedar roof, sits at the base of the falls.

When flames ripped across the ridge at the top of the falls, they swept down the hillside, and raced toward the Lodge and all those cedar shakes.

The firefighters had their marching orders: “Protect the lodge.”
It was an exhausting overnight firefight. They brought in sprinkling trucks and drew water from the creek. The one that made the falls, and flows steadily toward the Columbia? 
See the falls was instrumental in saving its Lodge.
Multnomah Lodge is the icon of Oregon,” said Lance Lighty, a Eugene-Springfield Fire battalion chief called in to help manage the blaze. “We didn’t want Oregon to lose that. And we weren’t going to let the fire win on this one.”
I couldn’t believe it when I heard that the Gorge was on fire.

Yesterday when husband dear and I drove to The Dalles, and passed Multnomah Falls we could see that the bridge and the lodge was still there. And looking to the bluffs we could see that the burn had been chased by the wind into a serpentine pattern.

Strange, seeing the scars that were once green trees, and seeing that portions burned, yet next to it giant green Douglas fir trees stood healthy.

I heard that the fire jumped the Columbia River—a mile wide strip of water one would think would be the best fire berm in the world, but winds being what they are, and cinders floating on currents, a spark can travel a long way. Thus an area on the Washington side of the river burned as well.

I was happy to see that the area around the gorge still had green trees and was still gorgeous, but the fire is still burning, out of sight of the highway, and about 50% contained. Sunday, however, the air was clear.

Looking on the bright side, perhaps this fire will rejuvenate the forest, fertilize the soil, clear the underbrush, and open some pine cones that only reproduce when fire has melted the wax that binds them shut.

We must drive by in a year or so to see the recovery.  Some trees will survive. Some will be gone. Some will grow up from the roots. We’ll see.

My mother and I moved to Oregon when I was seven years old. We moved from the flatlands of Illinois to mountainous Oregon-- eye-candy to a flatlander.

The soldier-boy my mother married had enticed her with images of his home town of The Dalles. It is nestled beside the Columbia River east of the Cascade Mountain range with its resultant rain shadow. This leaves The Dalles’ topography close to a barren prairie. In spring, though, the hills emerge triumphant. The area is known for its fruit, and in the spring the enormous orchards burst into color, and little wildflowers sprang up and spring shoots transform the area. The rest of the year, set me up with eyes that love green.

And as they say, you can’t go home again. You can, but it hurts.

What was once home isn’t home anymore, guess that’s the reason they say you can’t go home again. The Dalles feels worn compared to its life when I was a child, relishing horseback rides, camping trips, and excursions to the creek to fish.

The Dalles Dam desimated Celilo Falls that narrow strip of river that was a Native American fishing ground. (A treaty said the Native Americans could fish there forever.)  Once, so it has been said, salmon were so thick you could walk across the river on their backs.

We have a lot to apologize for.

My husband’s brother said that they used sonar to determine if the rugged basalt flow that made Celilo Falls still existed under the lake behind the dam. Some proposed that the rock formation, now buried under so many tons of water, had been blasted away removing any possibility of future litigation, for it is a sore point with many people. But the rocks are still there, neither are they silted in as some had surmised. Future generations may have them back. Someday we will probably have no use for dams. But we will always have use for a river.

Imagine this: You know how prospectors pan for gold in creeks? Perhaps those rocks have collected gold dust over the years, the rushing water upstream washing it down to the now buried Celilo Falls.

Does it then belong to the Native Americans?


I’m dreaming.

While in The Dalles, we drove past my parents old property on Cherry Heights, and I didn’t even recognize the spot. It was as though straw covered.

The house—gone. The terraced lawn my mother kept so beautiful—gone. The crabapple tree that blossomed, a bouquet in the front yard, pink flowers along with green leaves that was so gorgeous drivers stopped to take pictures of it—gone. The cherry orchard, peach orchard, and apricot orchard—all gone, as were the apple trees that grew abundantly around the house. And that peach tree in the front yard with its peaches so juicy you could hardly eat one without choking? Gone.

Don’t go home again. It isn’t there.

The museum where my brother-in-law and wife volunteer, rather bothered me, not because it wasn’t an excellent museum, and I do believe in preserving history, but except for the nostalgia I just talked about regarding my childhood home, and the memory of good times, it is best to look ahead.

Looking back works if we learn from it, but it does not provide uplifting thoughts.  

I believe in a better world, a forward thinking world, not holding onto the old ways. But remember how resourceful those people were, the ingenuity of the men with their farm equipment, the arrowheads of the Native Americans, the creativity of the women, beading, quilts, some artwork made from their own hair. These people used whatever resources they had on hand.

 “Gone are the swarms of snapshot-seeking tourists at the foot of Multnomah Falls. The hordes of hikers are nowhere to be seen. There are no diners in the lodge. No fight for parking.

“But the falls don’t need an audience. They continue to roar.”