Steamboat Slough


“To everything there is a season, a time to every purpose under heaven…A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted.” Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 “There is no new thing under the sun,” says the preacher. Ecclesiastes 1:9

Like Octopus tentacles heading in every direction, the sloughs and bayous of the Sacramento Delta bisect the land. An otherworldly place of ancient lore and pioneer spirit where water snakes through rich farm soil. We take the sinuous curves of the road in search of Snug Harbor.
There are stories here to be excavated like the miners churned over the earth in the mountains. But I do not have time to dig into the minds of my companions. We are here on a retreat of medical and pharmacy students. Tailings of worn out boats to the dilapidated barns reveal the land has been well used. A place of contrasts, where at one bend of the road the bottom soil seems dry and desiccated then the tarmac curves and wineries appear with rose bushes decorating the ends of grape rows like a flower on a Derby hat. The pears have been harvested but a few hang like Christmas ornaments from the stretching branches.
The sweetness of ripe grapes and pears perfumes the air with the delicate touch of a wise vintner. Brown rows of freshly turned soil wait the farmer’s hand. Planting may never come. The water is held hostage by people who have never turned the soil, who studied farming at an obscure university where sweat equity is throwing a ball through a hoop.
It is a familiar battle in the west. Water rights are mixed into a poisonous drink where peace is destroyed. Computer savvy politicians with men from Southern California and men who rise with the sun are the combatants. Those blessed to see creation at dawn and feed their family with their produce are tongue tied by the lawyers in power. As roads are squeezed into one lane by ‘repairs’, ferry’s halted, and bridges ‘under inspection and closed’, people lose hope.
The sun glints on the waves.
Salmon hide in the overhanging willows.
In a place where water laps the tree shrouded banks,
Souls are restored.
It is worth protecting,
This place of yesterday.

September Rains



September has ushered in the rains I remember from my childhood. Oregon rains, gray, misty, and occasionally torrential have cluttered our days with a dreary sameness. The deer still cavort in the slope of grass leading to the lake whether sun is bathing their backs in warmth or rain cleansing their fur. But rain, like a wraith cluttering Scrooge’s Christmas, stirs up a need for hot chocolate.
I was one of the kids who walked to school. Harding Grade School was only three blocks of sidewalk cracks. Western View Junior High was a length of asphalt with a small hump of concrete barrier to separate the pedestrians from the oncoming cars. 35th street was a busy road and I, one tenth of a mile short for a bus ride, got to hike it most days. Pre-backpack days, we carried our books. Juggling books and umbrella was never my strong suit. By the time I stamped my wet shoes in the front hall, my arms were weak with fatigue.
The one bus ride I had was memorable. It was October 12th, the day of the Columbus Day storm that brought hurricane force winds to Oregon. The school wouldn’t let us walk home, so I hopped on the bus. It dropped me off on the corner of Harrison and 35th street, then sped on eager to reach safety. I wiped the rain from my eyes, hunched over, and struggled to cross the street against the wind. Half-way across I felt my legs lift and nearly fell onto the road. By the time the opposite street corner was achieved, I had to grab onto a spindly tree in the neighbor’s yard and haul myself along the walk, one tree at a time to my front door.

Corvallis High was also one tenth of a mile too short to gain public transportation so I hoofed it. Usually with a friend in tow the journey was palatable, even at 7:30 in the morning because we talked. About everything. Politics, poetry, the latest history assignment. You name it we had an opinion. We didn’t talk much about boys. Neither of us dated, and the opposite sex wasn’t that attractive to us. Movies, though, were always interesting and since we both liked to sing and were part of the school choir, we’d croon Broadway show tunes from My Fair Lady to Camelot. Kathy sang alto, I soprano and we’d harmonize as we trod the hard sidewalks toward school.
Then there was college. I was a townie. A kid who went to university while remaining at home. We were not a wealthy family and with two of us at Oregon State it meant we both worked and lived with our parents. It was a blessing. My family met and quizzed my soon to be husband, studied him up close for weeks after we met and gave us the thumbs up. Then, Rod went off to medical school and after we wed, I transferred to Portland State to finish my last two years. And, you guessed it, my groom would drop me off on the sidewalks in front of the school and I’d walk. Taking the bus to my jobs, taking the bus home became a cherished ride. I didn’t have to walk further than a bus stop. I did still carry an umbrella, for it was Oregon and in Oregon it rains nine plus months out of the year.

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Rambling is still my forte, although dirt roads and small trails are more my style today. Closer to the earth I can smell the hint of fall coming as blackberries give off their heady perfume. When butterflies dance along the Doug Fir shrouded road, I pause to watch, letting time tick by without a schedule of classes or 3,000 word a day demand. Usually it is a pleasurable hike, with fawns gamboling along the neighbor’s cedars, but today I’m ensconced in a tidy cabin, rain coming down in buckets and a cup of tea at hand. I’ll use the exercise mat, I promise myself, but I long to stretch my legs on the curvy dirt road with its canopy of green tree branches.