Thursday, June 03, 2004

Cedar Mill Creek

I am still not entirely reconciled to working in the suburbs, this queer hybrid of countryside and city, where freshly asphalted four-lane parkways sweep to trivial ends in empty fields -- building lots that were cleared during the boom and then left to turn to fragile, surprisingly beautiful meadowland, rich with lupine and blackberry, dotted with escaped ornamentals from the hi-tech light-industrial parks. It's quiet out here, except for the ubiquitous buzz of powerlines, and full of birdlife: meadowlarks, redwing blackbirds, shrill-piping running birds like overgrown sandpipers, barn swallows. Big campuses, half of them empty, darkened spaces full of disused cubicles. Almost no one walks out here but me. A few joggers. It's eerie to me, how many people work in these buildings -- hundreds, I think -- and how most of them are so incurious about their surroundings that they've never walked anywhere here, except from their cars, through the mammoth parking lots, to the ID-badged doors. Surreal. Truman show. Crews of Mexicans keep up our grounds beautifully -- for whom? No one looks, no one walks by these flowerbeds, but me. Not that I've ever seen. The Mexicans eye me impassively as I walk by. So far as I can tell, they don't give a damn that I'm the only person who appreciates their work. In fact, they look as suspicious of me as the people who glance at me from behind the tinted glass of their SUV's.

The wetlands have been left alone, out here. One thing to be grateful for. I'm sure, left to themselves, the developers would have dumped the marshes full of fill dirt, or something worse. So I'm glad the wetlands are protected. Beautiful marshes stretch across this land. I walk down to Washington County Bridge #1409, crossing -- so the sign tells me -- Cedar Mill Creek. (Cedars? In this kind of country? & Where, around here, does the water drop rapidly enough to turn a millwheel? I have a feeling the same people who dropped these hi-tech campuses out of the sky also named this creek.)

But anyway, this brown creek, less than ten yards wide, wanders through cattails and high grass, and runs slowly under Bridge #1409. I stand on the bridge in the afternoon, bright sun falling down on my head from above, and up to my face from a dazzling reflection below. A low bridge. Fifteen feet above the water. Barn swallows dive under the bridge, over and over, darting below my feet without a care. And today three muskrats, in a dignified line, swam strongly, calmly down the center of the creek, directly below me, appearing one by one on my side of the bridge, legs pumping rythmically, unhurried, clearly the masters of their brown, reed-lined world. So big I peered carefully at their tails to make sure they weren't beaver. They have nothing to fear from human beings, I guess -- human beings stay behind their tinted glass, roaring up and down the roadways, of no more interest to muskrats than the distant turkey-vultures.

This country keeps still -- as Tolkien might have said -- a disheveled naiad loveliness. For now. The next economic boom, so devoutly desired by the people of Oregon, hangs over it like the blade of a guillotine. Soon enough, the muskrats will learn that they have plenty to fear.

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