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It started with an ordinary night out to eat at one of the very few restaurants in tiny Rainier. I stepped out of the Jeep in the parking lot, and was awash in the sounds of barking, growling, and moaning. Sometimes I can hear sea lions barking while standing on my porch, several miles away, but this sounded more impressive. Before going into the restaurant, I walked down to the beach in the dark, following the sounds, and came to the Rainier Marina. I could barely see the docks, but I could hear that they were occupied. I took this video for the sounds. Even after hearing it twenty times, it makes me smile!
The next morning was partially sunny, so I took my camera back down the hill to see what the scene looked like in daylight.
Hey! Remember I had camera problems starting during my trip to Chile? At a camera store, before sending it off for repairs, the technician suggested a couple of ways to trouble shoot. One of his suggestions was to try a different lens. I had been almost exclusively using the Tamron lens because it can use the autofocus on the Nikon, and it goes from 35mm to 270mm! So convenient. I tried the 18-35, and also the 70-300, and viola! Problem fixed. It means my Tamron is dead, but not the camera. Yay!
I chatted up one of the men in a truck, who turned out to be a local fisherman. He was very unhappy about the sea lion situation. He explained that the local fishermen view them as a menace because they eat the fish. Smelt populations wax and wane, but since the year 2000 their numbers have been so low they were added to the Endangered Species list as a threatened population. The huge sea creatures were gobbling up a lot of what is available, leaving even less for the humans. This is also a problem during salmon runs, with salmon populations already threatened by human activity like dams on the river. From an anthropologist’s perspective, I see it as a way that the fishermen respect the wild animals, and I think the rivalry is almost touching. People curse the seals and sea lions as though they are equal rivals for a limited resource, and it draws them together and highlights what they have in common. I recognize that I have the luxury of using this perspective because I don’t depend on fishing for food or for income.
Still, I had to bite down to keep from commenting to the fisherman in his truck, that while he professed to hate the sea lions, here he was, among other crusty old fishermen on the hill, having his lunch break with his windows down, listening to and watching them.
Rainier sits on the Columbia River right across from the mouth of the Cowlitz River. This year, like last year, a one-day, five-hour net fishing season was open on February 25th. People stand on the riverbank with nets and scoop them up. Reports are that no one got a fish this year on the Cowlitz. I imagine there will be even more cursing about sea lions now.
There are enough smelt to bring their wild hunters 45 miles inland from the sea, however.
In hopes of protecting our Marina, workers went out in January to build barriers to keep the beasts off the docks. The combined weight of hundreds of massive sea lions will sink the docks. Wooden fences were constructed, and lined with bright orange plastic netting, to make the fence seem more intimidating. The sea lions said a collective “Whatevs,” and pushed the fences aside and lounged on the docks anyway. I’m afraid the already-poor city of Rainier will have to build new docks, or at least do some significant repairs, when all is said and done.
The other thing I saw down there were the signs of commerce and industry. I know it’s factories and massive machinery and big dirty ships, but I have a childlike joy when I see it all. The lights at night (as you can see in the video at the top) are nothing short of beautiful to behold. The exhaust from the pulp mill is like a scene from a science fiction movie. Everything is huge! The factory towers, the ships, the bridge, the enormous docks across the river at the Port of Longview, in Washington. All of it delights me.
For comparison, I took a second video with my phone, to give you a better sense of the whole view.
Saturday I turned 46 and went down the road apiece to Astoria, Oregon. I stopped right away at a viewpoint and looked down on our rural valley, about an hour drive north of Portland, Oregon. From there I could see the industrial mechanisms of the local economy, in the form of lumber and pulp mills, and the Port of Longview.
The next thing that caught my attention was a sign that pointed the way to a toll ferry. I did not need to go wherever the ferry would take me, except that I have been randomly discovering quite a few small ferry crossings on the many Oregon rivers, and it’s become a new interest of mine. Sadly, I did not ride a ferry that day.
In no time I was in Astoria, the city built at the mouth of the Columbia as it pours into the Pacific Ocean. I took a few photos near the mouth of the river, which is filled with sea faring ships, of course, since it’s a safe harbour when the ships are not en route. Then I stopped for lunch at the Rogue Brewery on Pier 39. I drove on the pier to get there!
At the Rogue Brewery I veered away from the “Dead Guy Ale,” and the “Yellow Snow IPA,” and tried the “8 Hop IPA” and some homemade clam chowder (fresh clams, obviously). I somewhat recklessly agreed to become a citizen of the Rogue Nation and raised my right hand and took the pledge. I got a card that entitles me to a free pitcher of beer on my next birthday, but not this one. I talked with another woman traveling solo who is from Idaho like me, and has been roaming the West Coast since November, she said, trying to decide whether or not to retire. When she left, I talked with the couple on the other side of me, who were having a great day because the grandparents had the baby and they were free for awhile. They were both Air Force veterans like me and I quickly gave my VA-is-the-best-thing-ever spiel, and answered some questions and gave them my contact information.
Next I went to check in at the Cannery Pier Hotel & Spa. This place looked great online, and is *so* much better in reality. The service was personal and genuine. They learned my name in the first greeting, and from then on never asked again what room I was in. I told them it was my birthday and they wished me a happy birthday every time I passed the front desk (and even checked in with me the next day at breakfast, to see if I had enjoyed my birthday. I had.) I took a dozen photos, and I’ll share them with you in my next post.
There were about two hours of daylight left, so I left the place and went to find the sea.
First I got distracted by this garage covered in scavenged buoys. The woman who owned the home there said the garage was built at the same time as her grandmother’s home, which had been where we were standing before she tore it down to build her new home. “But Grandma loved her garage and it reminds me of her, and I just can’t bring myself to take it down yet,” she said. “We had a pile of these buoys that we had found, and one day we hung them up. Now people drop them off and we keep hanging them up.”
Then I was distracted again by a sign giving directions to the Army Cemetery. The road passed through what had clearly been an Army outpost years ago. Though it is entirely civilian now, one can’t ever erase the stamp of the federal government. It had the feel of a military base still. At the end of the road I found the humble Fort Stevens Post Cemetery, founded in 1868, according to an informational sign, when the first burial was Private August Stahlberger, who fell in the river and drowned while under the influence. It was also closed for repair.
Finally I found the beach. I honestly tried to pick out just the good photos, but… I fell in love with them all. It was an exquisite view in the January afternoon, as the sun shed her last rays on us ocean-loving humans.
On the way back to the hotel for their 5 pm wine, cheese, salmon and crackers, I had to stop again for photos. These reflections were still discernible in the very last vestiges of light at about 4:40 pm.
I went up to my room and changed into my new Christmas dress that I had only worn once so far. I enjoyed the treats downstairs, then came back to my room to try out a new whiskey that I received as a birthday gift. Have I mentioned that I’m a whiskey drinker? A co-worker has been lauding this Japanese scotch for the longest time. I was skeptical that such a good whiskey could be from Japan. I am no longer skeptical. Then, since I wanted to get a photo of my dress for Tara, I took about 75 photos in the bathroom mirror and failed them all. By the time this one was taken, I was totally cracking up at my own ineptness. But at least I got a fuzzy picture of my dress. It’s a sweater dress, so fuzzy is appropriate.
I’m sure you have heard the news about the rain on the U.S. West coast. Here’s our story.
On Tuesday December 8, despite the pouring rain I drove south to Corvallis after work to pick up Tara from college to come home for the holidays. We got home at 9:30 pm and I was so tired we didn’t visit, just went to bed. So much rain had fallen that day it had caused a mudslide that brought down trees and debris across Oregon Highway 30 near Rainier, my hometown. Wednesday morning I kissed Tara’s sleeping head, and hopped into the Jeep at 5:00 am like usual. I could not take the Highway 30 route into Portland because there was a roadblock, flashing lights, and police out there answering questions. I shrugged and turned the other direction to cross the Lewis & Clark Bridge over the Columbia River to Washington state. It’s my preferred route into town anyway. Both highways hug the river all the way to Portland, but the I-5 speed limit is 70 miles per hour, and the Hwy 30 speed limit ranges from 25 to 55 mph as it passes through half a dozen little towns.
During the day Wednesday the rain came down like a monsoon. Word spread through the office that there had been a mudslide on Interstate 5 between Portland and Seattle – my way home. I wasn’t worried at first, since that is a major route and I knew it would be a priority cleanup.
Tara sent a video taken on their phone. It showed our little Beaver Creek had overflowed its banks and flooded the whole bottom section of the property, flowed all across the land and into the pond. The video is blurry, but you get the idea. Since I moved here in July I have fretted about the low level of the pond, but in minutes the raging Beaver River filled it up and overflowed the other side. (Notice the sticks still on the railing after I photographed them for their ice formations.)
I left work and headed north on I-5 like usual, and right away I saw enormous highway signs proclaiming “Road closed, mile post 23. Use alternate route.” I kept driving because the mudslide was from the morning. Certainly the major highway would be open by the time I arrived. And besides, “alternate route,” that’s a joke. There is no alternate route. There isn’t a frontage road, or mountain pass, or even a little recreation road that follows the Columbia River on the Washington side. There is absolutely no other way to get through except Highway 30 on the Oregon side.
I was still about 10 miles away from the so-called “road closure,” but already the Interstate was slowing down. Three lanes of bumper to bumper traffic traveling around 15 miles an hour finally made me take the situation seriously. The big glowing highway signs stated “Take next exit.” I passed one exit, still not convinced. When we were down to 3 miles an hour, and still 8 miles from mile marker 23, I acquiesced and pulled off the highway, turned around and went back to Portland. I finally had to agree that the Interstate was truly closed.
Luckily I had a place to stay in downtown Portland, so I had a rather appealing Plan B. Serendipitously, Tara was at home and could keep an eye on the place, feed the cat and the chickens, and that was reassuring. I visited the hot tub on the roof of the apartment building where I stayed, and for an hour the rain let up and gave us this Christmas view of the city.
I wore all the same clothes at work Thursday December 10, though I was able to swap out my undershirt with a clean Incredible Hulk T-shirt, which I was carrying for the workout that never happened. You just never know when you’re going to need the help of a superhero, am I right?! My co-workers and I heard that Highway 30 was finally open at Rainier, but a couple hours later a new mudslide happened at the St. John’s bridge. Cleanup crews for the St. John’s slide accidentally hit a natural gas pipeline, which closed Highway 30 again. I-5 stayed closed. My co-worker’s wife called to tell him that a tornado dropped down in their hometown, and the schools were calling parents to come get their kids. A tornado!
I considered driving to the coast at Tillamook, Oregon, going north to Astoria, and coming in to Rainier from the back way. Yes, for reals, I was seriously going to drive to the coast just to get home. However, the same co-worker with kids going home for a tornado, has family in Tillamook. He cautioned me not to try it because many of those highways were under water as well.
Finally Hwy 30 opened again in the afternoon, and I left an hour early. I thought for sure that leaving at 2:30 pm would help me avoid rush hour traffic and make the trip home reasonable. I had not seen my home in two days, hadn’t said “hi” to my teenager or the chickens or the cat, hadn’t taken prescription meds, and I needed new clothes. I made up my mind to get onto 30 and just be patient if it ended up taking a long time.
All Interstate 5 traffic was routed onto 30 that day. Just imagine it: three lanes of Interstate traffic on two lanes (and for a large portion of the highway, only one lane) of country road. It wasn’t just a slow trip home: it was the worst ever. Six and a half hours it took me. I finally pulled into the driveway at 9:15 pm.
Friday morning at 5:00 am, I kissed Tara’s forehead in the dark again (I still hadn’t seen my kid awake for days) and headed back into town. Sadly, all the southbound roads had been open all week. Meaning, I could always get to work, but getting home was the problem. Next time I’d prefer to be trapped at home due to mudslides. At work we heard stories of how the Red Cross had set up tents along the Interstate for motorists trapped on the highway, unable to back out because of being penned in by other vehicles. They passed out silver heat blankets and bottled water, and people stayed the night in their cars. If I was religious, this would probably have been the time for me to send up some prayers. (I sent some anyway, just because I don’t let convictions get in the way of my gratitude)
After work Friday I went home on I-5 that had two lanes open at long last. I passed about a dozen abandoned cars beside the highway, where people had pulled into the ditch and walked back toward Portland two nights earlier. Thank goodness I had not been one of those trapped. I am so glad I decided to turn around. One of my defining qualities is the refusal to give up when things get difficult, but perhaps a sign that I’m maturing despite it all, is the fact that I am learning that sometimes the right decision is to give it up.
All is well at home. No one is allowed to worry that my house was ever in danger of flooding. We sit up on a hill and the whole Columbia Valley would have to fill up before the water would get to my house. Ironically, I currently have an application pending with FEMA to get the property removed from their categorization of flood zone, so I don’t have to buy flood insurance. Shh! Don’t show them the video.
We had some mighty hot days here in Portland Oregon not too long ago. I was trying to move from my old house to the new house, in the off hours between work hours. I was tired and sweating.
A friend offered to meet me at the river and that was a great plan. I took a break from packing and was still dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, but when I spotted that water, I just waded right in. J waded in after me and we stood in the water and I unloaded all my worries for about two hours as we watched the sun drop to the horizon.
It was just what the doctor ordered.
Today the weather did its best to dampen spirits, but we prevailed! Good day despite the rain and hail and chill. Plus, good soggy rain photos get a few laughs, so there’s a couple more points for me.
Astoria, Oregon is the location where the movie The Goonies was filmed. If you didn’t see the Goonies, or don’t remember it, then trust me: you’d love it. A story of a gang of boys who go looking for buried treasure and end up on a heck of an adventure. We found the building that was the jailhouse in the movie. Scenes from yesterday’s post – Haystack Rock and the boardwalk at sunset – were also in the movie. I had been hopping with excitement all day Sunday, waiting for the chance to see “Mikey’s house” the unforgettable house in the movie.
The owner of the property graciously invites visitors, and has signs directing tourists right to the spot, including the best places to park.
As we walked up the gravel drive to the house, M and I were stunned to see a prominent, sparkling new flag flying smack in the middle of the porch, clearly making a political statement, and one that was deeply offensive to us. The “NOBAMA” sticker on the car next to the house will give a sense of the political bent. We stood silent, making faces of disbelief and dismay, for a full five minutes before we could move. All my joy and excited anticipation was demolished, and I forced myself to take a couple photos once M suggested editing the flag out. You can use your imagination and cover the flag in something that gives you bouncing childlike happiness…to make up for what I lost first thing this morning.
We ate fresher-than-fresh oysters for lunch, and learned about multiple Indian tribes as we drove through a lot of Indian country and past reservations. It rained and rained and got colder and rained some more. We saw sunbeams a couple of times. Finally we stopped in Forks, Washington for the night.