pages fly away 13

In the morning I followed the road over a bridge that crossed the highway.  On the other side, approaching the Colombia River, was a sign stating that the fishing rights belonged to members of the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs, and Yakama tribes.  Further down the road was a fishing camp.  There was a red salmon painted on the side of a shack and a few men were working on a boat.  I cut straight over to the river and sat down on the bank.  It was another perfect day.  How many in a row had that been?

I found a fallen log with small, black stones scattered around it.  A clearing in the branches made a natural window.  I sat down and rested my hands on my knees.  The river splashed across the stones.  Cars went whirring past on the highway.  I could hear muffled voices from the fishing camp.  I closed my eyes and thought about the river.  I opened my eyes then shut them again, and it continued to dance across my eyelids.  Splashes of sunlight worked their way through my brain.

The Colombia River begins in the Canadian Rockies and runs 1,200 miles through seven states.  At one time it played host to the greatest salmon run on earth, but now, with nineteen hydroelectric dams on it, providing water and power to many, far less breeding salmon are able to return. The river still runs powerful and deep, however, and remains a force not to be trifled with.  The energy of it was apparent from where I sat.  Its great presence stirred something inside me, beyond the wild channels of imagination that were opening in my mind.  It moved my spirit.

When I opened my eyes, it felt like I’d been gone for a long time.  Walking back to camp, I came across some blackberry bushes.  They were loaded with ripe berries, almost enough to make a breakfast of.  I picked and ate them until my fingertips were stained purple.  A little further and I crossed some railroad tracks, gleaming in the sun. 

After breaking camp, I got on the 84 and headed east, only traveling thirty miles before pulling over to visit the Dalles.  The Dalles was once a major trading place for Native Americans.  Lewis and Clark passed through there in 1805, hoping to reach the Pacific Ocean. 

It was at the Lewis and Clark Festival Park that I pulled into, getting out and walking to a steamboat at the river’s edge.  It was named The American Pride. A few old women in period costumes, flapper dresses and glittering hats, were greeting passengers and passing out brochures.  A crew member confided in me that the cruise cost a thousand dollars a day.

A mural on the wall of the park called Sahaptin Medicine Man showed four pictures of the same shaman, in the first waving an eagle feather towards the river, in the second sitting cross-legged and playing a frame drum with his eyes closed, in the third tending to a small fire, and in the fourth, pulling salmon from rapids as they leapt upstream and drying them on a rack.  The medicine man lived away from the tribe and tended to matters of the body and spirit.  He was able to speak for the land and see renewal in all things.

The Dalles is the seat of Wasco County.  As I drove through the small downtown, I came across other murals commemorating the history of the region.  There were settlers on the Oregon Trail with their covered wagons and oxen, mountain men and trappers paddling canoes.  Another showed Natives, spearing fish out of the river, trading goods in baskets, and standing beside their horses.  A ghost sign, painted on a brick wall, advertised flapjacks.  Right next to it was a giant wagon wheel. 

A painting called Rock of Ages showed a preacher standing high on a rock, preaching to a congregation of Native Americans.  There is a lot they would come to know about the White Man’s Book of Heaven.  This new medicine came with side effects that were worse than any disease.  The medicine man had no power to cure them.  The time of troubles was just getting started.

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