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Following the River


Cape Blanco State Park

"The past is not dead. It is not even past." - Willam Faulkner

Last time we spoke, I was still raw and bitter about a speeding ticket, and advocating a retaliatory emigration to the stars. That'd show 'em.

I've come back to earth since, somewhat. Like Lucy, I've gotta lotta 'splaining to do. Perhaps I should start with the very next days. That will illustrate the profound organization and rigorous planning that go into my travels. Yeah.

I spent Monday climbing the ridge between the Williamette and North Umpqua rivers. The logging roads up there, while admirably paved, seem to have changed numbers since Streets and Trips 2001 came out. I got thoroughly lost, or as much as you can when you are dragging your home around with you. I camped at last on a bluff high above Diamond Lake, with Mt. Bailey in the near distance.

Tuesday morning I again took up the quest for a road up and over, trending eastward until finally I came down into Poole Creek, and hit Hwy 138 not far from Diamond Lake. Hmmm. Toketee Falls. Has a ring to it. My plan had been to proceed on to Crater Lake, and then to Klamath. But what would it hurt to drive down the canyon a dozen miles and see the falls?

Well, the falls were gated off, and well away from the road. Perhaps if I went just a little farther, I'd get a Verizon signal, and be able to catch up on my email. Yeah.

And so it went. The canyon of the Umpqua is deceptively steep. You can coast just about all the way into Roseburg. Fifty miles. So I did. The serpentine road wound down through a sometime tunnel of red and yellow leaves, but always beside the widening river.

See what I mean? Rigid organization. Admirable discipline. That's me. But if the mighty Umpqua couldn't stop, or even slow down, who was I to resist the gravity of the situation?

Pave a road with good intentions, and it'll give you a smooth ride for a while. I stopped short of the usual destination, though, and came to rest at Cape Blanco State Park. The campground is on a steep bluff which separates the meandering mouths of the Elk and Sixes rivers. There is a fine lighthouse, and access to a wide beach. It has electricity to each site, and is open year round. All in all, a fine place to lay up for 3 or 4 days.

On one of my walks I wandered a couple of miles down the beach to the Elk river, where a bunch of crazed fishermen were gathered with their trucks and 4 wheelers, waiting impatiently for the chinook to come in and run their gauntlet. They were being coy about it.

"Tell you what, fellas. You catch a big one and I'll take a picture of it."

"You're late. They were thick in here Sunday. Even Roy's dog caught one. Chased it right out of the water."

"So where are they?"

He looked at me disgustedly. "They come when they want to. But right there might be part of the problem." He gestured off shore, where a group of gillnetters were trolling pretty close in front of the river's mouth.

His partner grunted, and spat tobacco into the river. "They was out there Sunday, and that didn't keep'em the hell away."

"True." They shut up for a while, and cast. I wanted them to keep talking. I was hoping to catch something here, even if they didn't.

"So, did there used to be a lot more of them?"

"Oh, hell yes." I waited a beat, but he seemed reluctant to elaborate.

"What do you think happened to them?"

"Happened to them? Everything. Long nets. Birds. Seals. Little bit of everything. Nothing's like it used to be. I can remember, hunting geese up on Sixes, when the salmon were so thick we stopped shooting to kick'em back in the water. Thirty pounds of fish would come right up on the bank at you. Damn nuisance. We came to hunt, but the fish wouldn't leave us alone."

I related a story someone told me about how not so long ago, a little north of here, a truckload of timber was only one tree.

"Happened all the time. Hell, I remember when the Johnson boys got stuck at a bridge, and had to split one with dynamite. Then they still had two full loads. Half-tree loads."

These were fishermen, used to sharing stories about the ones that got away. And when so much seems to have gotten away, almost any story might be true.

But what the hell. We're Americans, all of us. As a matter of faith, we face forward, believing the best times are ever ahead, on and on and on. Got to be. Time is a river that gathers as it flows, and never finds the sea.

That's the lesson this land taught us, down in our bones, as we spread out over it, arriving at last in this very place, here on the edge of things.

I left them there on the beach, casting into empty water, waiting for the fish that used to come.


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