Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Clackamas

Estacada. I wake at five, in an unfamiliar motel room, illuminated only by the green glow of the digital clock. Working mostly by feel, I get a shower -- wondering, as every time I'm in a cheap hotel room, what the reasoning is behind making it impossible to light the bathroom without lighting the rest of the space and waking your partner. I take a certain pleasure in trying to work out the mechanics of taking a shower in a new place without being able to see -- exploring the fittings with my fingers and figuring out how they work -- but surely I'm a little odd, that way? Or maybe it's just odd that I wake up before dawn and immediately want to be up and doing.

It's quiet, as I leave the room. A fine mist gently kisses my face. I walk along the high bank of the Clackamas river -- its water dark, dark green in the half-light -- and listen to the rapid whining whistle of the ospreys. They sound like someone desperately trying to crank over a rusty machine. Much like seagulls, and I wonder briefly if there's something about a steady diet of fish that induces a shrill repetitious whine. Is it accidental that fishwives are proverbial scolds?

Yes, I tell myself sternly. It is.

I can't see the ospreys from here. Last night we watched them fishing on the river and squabbling at their huge, high nest on the opposite bank -- a nest so big that at first we thought it must be an eagle's, on the very top of a lone bare tree. Kingfishers flickered under the bank, occasionally, and two ducks patrolled the river. Apparently ospreys don't mess with ducks, or anyway that's what the ducks think.

The bank was overgrown with ripe blackberries; the scent came to us clearly. "It smells like summer," said Martha, and I knew she was thinking of swimming with her sisters and cousins in the clear green Umpqua, years ago, when the world was young.

Yesterday we took a narrow one-lane road up towards Memaloose Lake. We passed four quarries on the way, and each quarry had a party of target-shooters. The sound of gunshots was never far away. We asked a set of them directions to the lake. "Is there a lake up here?" they said.

I tried, and failed, to imagine waking up on a beautiful summer day and wanting to drive up through a quiet forest in order to reach an ugly barren quarry, littered with soda cans and shell-cases, and make a hellish noise with deadly weapons. It's easy, in the Hawthorne district of Portland, to feel that I actually belong in this country. Out here it's clear that I don't.

As the afternoon drew into evening, we passed the last quarry, coming back down. There was a burst of semiautomatic fire, and we came in sight of an older man watching a teenager turn from the range. The teenager was all in black, with helmet-like protectors over his ears, gangly and hunched. A curl of smoke came from the barrel of his loosely-held gun.

No comments: