Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Stories from the Road -- Bonneville, OR

Oregon is such a beautiful state.

I first entered Oregon on I-84 from Idaho. I was in awe right from the start, with the dry, rolling terrain following the road for miles. I've always liked the look of hills without trees. For some reason, they seem more formidable to me. And the grass was brownish in color. It seems that when everyone thinks of Oregon, they think of rain forests -- the endless onslaught of rain coming in from the sea. Fog hanging on to the coastal hills, like a comforting blanket. It's easy to forget the open steppes and high-rising treeless mountains to the east.

Experiencing Oregon by driving through it is the way to do it. Seeing the land slowly become more lush, the trees thicker and thicker, the Columbia River wider and wider -- it's a gradual change, but an unmistakable one. Pay attention, and you notice the trees change, and with it, the wildlife. I was lucky enough to drive through here when the weather seemed to match the changes in habitat. As the rain forests began to appear near and west of The Dalles, a low stratus deck hung to the crests. A subtle mist could be felt as I stepped outside. Just miles to the east, the sun was shining and the temperatures were soaring.

The town of Bonneville is right along the Columbia River west of The Dalles. There is a scenic dam here, with a fishery and a bridge that caught my interest. Technically, the bridge is located in Cascade Locks -- but to me, the memory of the dam is forever intertwined with the Bridge of the Gods.

The reason this is the case (aside from their close proximity) is that everything seemed so lush and vibrant here. The grass was thick, the trees were infinite, and the hills added a sense of enormity to everything. By this point, the Columbia River begins to form the gorge, which becomes even more pronounced as it heads west to Portland.

Unquestionably, there is a sense that the world closes in on you as you head farther downstream, deeper into the gorge. A sort of natural claustrophobia is created, as the trees approach the river, the hills become higher, and the river widens. It's a beautiful squeeze play for drivers along the route.

The sound of the spillway at the Bonneville Dam is overwhelming, but away from the dam, there is nothing. No sound. The wind was nonexistent, and the mist silently rested upon anything everywhere. This was my first rain forest experience, which would only become more and more pronounced after our stop in Bonneville. Nevertheless, it was here that I realized that all of the stereotypes of rain forests were true. It was almost so green that even I could see it.

I spent a lovely couple of hours at the hatchery and the dam -- watching little kids point out the newest fish seen behind the glass. I always find it somewhat disconcerting that I cannot hear the sounds of water behind the glass. It adds a bit of mystery to it. It's like watching a film, in which the sound is suddenly taken out. Often, a director will choose slow motion during these scenes. In hatcheries and aquariums, it is always involuntary for me to do the same. Everything is slower, more amplified. A subtle shift in direction of the fish is immediately eye-catching.

And then, looking at the dam, the water turns into a blur. All of a sudden, the only sense I can remember is sound. The sound of water falling furiously into the river below -- the drops becoming one white rush -- indistinguishable from all of the others.

A curious combination -- both enhancing one sense at the expense of the rest. And in the rain forest of northwest Oregon, it makes perfect sense. With the world seemingly caving in on you, everything slows down. It's a good chance to observe what we commonly miss and frequently drive through -- at our ignorant misfortune.

I-84 in eastern Oregon

Columbia River just west of The Dalles

Bridge of the Gods

Cascade Locks

Cascade Locks and the Bridge of the Gods

Bonneville Dam

Near the fishery/hatchery

A stream just south of Columbia River in Bonneville

Bridge for the train in Bonneville

The hatchery in Bonneville