My Columbia River - Dave Krueger

Astoria

Been on a tear the last couple weeks, shedding work-angst. Five days on the water over the last seven -- two overnights and a day trip. Yesterday it gelled.

Smack dab on a coarse sand beach, a divergence in the River, where eighty per cent of the flow edges to the south, past parallel mountains of dredge spoils, and another ten per cent shelves northward. The rest is spread over four miles of shallows and backwaters, all hell-bound for the sea.

A man-made place, yet wild. Broken trees and huge driftwood lace the swash line. Moss and dried annuals scratch at the sand on the dune. Double crested cormorants alight echelons of pile dikes, preening for a mate. Grebes "screebing" at each other, bragging of bigger fish, more fish. Seals smacking the water, chasing vanishing salmon.

Mongo freighters take the larger channel, and the Corps smooths their path with a million dollars a year in spoil extraction, to make the waters turn ten degrees south. Conservation of momentum and money in a standoff. We sit in awe, here shuddering at the power of the River, shaking piles and gouging sand.

The geese know it, the terns know it, and the immature eagle fifty yards off knows it. All are competing for a piece of this place.

And so am I, to scrabble a fragment of sanity. The sun is out, the wet suit off, food gulletting down with water as lubricant. A feeding mode not so much different from the soon-to-be-hatched goslings, now incubating under an adult, itself watched by the eagle, the redtail, and us.

The current runs in two directions here, generating boils and mild haystacks for us to dance over, and we ease off, skirting massive piles of sand, decorated at the lower end with feeble fences of plastic to divert terns. An eagle silhouette stands guard, and two matures help on a grounded root ball.

Leaving this special, diverse, remote place, though it will not leave us. We carry it back to civilization, a tonic for an interval, or maybe a lifetime, knowing it is there.

Are there sand-Druids?

Dave Kruger is a retired chemistry professor and long-time paddler on the Lower Columbia River Water Trail. When not on the water, or on a sandy island in the middle of the river, he can be found at the coffee shop on Smith Point in Astoria.