On Indifference: Walking the Willamette at River Mile 21

Rain falls, and I watch the river rise. It’s like witnessing an act of creation.

The surface moves faster than I can walk, sapping banks and kidnapping whole trees, running away with them down the mud-brown flow. The water boils and writhes, racing ahead of itself and tripping over its eagerness. Wave crests collapse into lines of tiny whirlpools, pearls of chaos on a string about to snap. At the level of the river, I hear its hunger, its excitement, but it takes me a moment to recognize the sound, because it’s not like water I know. Eyes closed, I recognize a fierce and ruthless wind.

ducks in flood, willamette river

Why did I say ‘creation?’ If life on our world was born in primal mud and wet, this is as close as I can come to imagining it.


I begin my days beside this river. Or end them, or take a break in the middle. I am fortunate to have such a presence within easy walking distance of my home. I visit so often, I begin to think of this presence as friendly. I forget.


It has been a year for fine sunrises. I say this as if that’s unusual, and that’s the wrong impression. But it is remarkable. Every day the same event, never the same.

There was a pattern to this early winter, though, one I greet as an old friend. I found it in the colors, the angle of light, the notes and rests of morning laid winter-bare.

fog-strewn sunrise

Monday: Pale blue and creamy streaks of cloud reflect in quiet water. Gulls and a single heron sweep silently downriver. Mallards gather at river’s edge, not silent.

Thursday: Orange slick of sunrise on grey water, dimly illuminating a hundred tiny puffs of hovering fog. A single strident song sparrow throws out his feathered chest and shouts a challenge.

Saturday: Immaculate, creamy fire in the eastern sky; darkness over the face of the waters. A great blue heron lands heavily at the confluence of river and creek. She drops hard, full in the water, then flaps clumsily upright and ponderously takes off again. I’ve never seen such a thing.

winter fire

Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday…etcetera.

We use that word dismissively, exactly as it translates, et cetera: “…and the rest.” But repetition may also be beautiful. Reassuring. Disarming.

I like to sit on the rocks here and eavesdrop on the birds. Sunrise or sunset is best. I’m not sure if it’s true that wild animals will forget your presence if you sit still long enough, but certainly they worry less, talk more. Our crows and mallards and gulls and songbirds are enthusiastic communicators. Are they arranging their days, talking about the fishing or the best place to pick up some seeds? Maybe just greeting each other, calling out names and good wishes.

...just chillin'

These mornings are not quiet, but they are still. Sometimes ice crunches under my boots when I step off the paved ramp; sometimes a soft rain falls. Cottonwood leaves – green, then yellow, then the last clinging orange flags – flutter from their branches and settle at my feet. In long crouching moments at river’s edge, I seem to disappear. Of course I’m the only one under that delusion.


For as much as I matter to the river, it might as well be truth. That’s finally obvious today, with the roiling torrent inches from my feet. My friendly pattern is split, for now – kindling for the fire of this flood. The beach is gone, the birds have found new places to gather. I keep hearing ripping sounds upstream, and a moment later watching the water in front of me surge and swell.

I could stand here still as a hunting heron for another hour, and the river might forget I was there, or not. Either way, it would swallow me.

Mixed media


Usually, there IS a beach at Lake Oswego’s George Rogers Park. It’s a great place for dogs and kids, not a terrible spot to put in a kayak, and a wonderful place to watch the sunrise (mostly) by yourself. There’s also a very nice little paved path that curves down to the beach and out along the river through mixed coniferous forest, passing a pretty waterfall (in season), and at least one gorgeous river viewpoint. Walking in the park doesn’t total more than half a mile, but you have any number of choices for a longer walk that includes various neighborhoods and possibly a college campus. Access the park off Highway 43 south of Portland, between downtown Lake Oswego and the highway’s intersection with McVey Avenue. No fees.


Asters on the beach


One thought on “On Indifference: Walking the Willamette at River Mile 21

  1. I’m there with you, because I HAVE been there, with and without you. And only once when the river was in flood and the beach was under water. It is a beautiful, easily accessible place for a walk in the beauty of nature, with the river to remind us of lovely quiet and sometimes roiling, frantic flood. Both stages remind us of the power inherent in this water world.

    Liked by 1 person

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