My kayak is tuned to the music of the Willamette River. Honestly. Yet smoky skies chased us away from our planned Montana wilderness pack trip, leading us to the Long Beach Peninsula, kayaks strapped on top. A place holding six generations of stories for us: beginning with my great great grandfather J.K. Gill’s 1880’s visits to revival camp meetings, to my grandfather’s boyhood trips via steamer, a ride on the Ilwaco Railway and Navigation Company train, and stage. We headed over the Oregon Coast Range, across the Columbia River on the 4.1 mile Astoria-Megler Bridge, and into……. smoke.
Lucky we were to awaken to a smoke-free sky, though it doesn’t free my mind of the worries for our region, our countries: longer, hotter, drier summers. Homes encroaching upon areas not before built. Forests boasting dry tinder. People nursing health conditions aggravated by high particulate counts. Outdoor workers required to complete demanding outdoor work with no paid vacation or days off.
And yet, for a few sweet hours, we paddled. And we remembered. A magical memory created for our children. Stories built upon stories. And today, our own daughters and nieces fully grown, Russ and I returned to the lakes we remember so well.
We speak in low voices, suggesting pirates and treasure: “Keep an eye out! use your eagle eyes to let us know if you see anything suspicious! They may be returning for it! ……where we dock our canoes in the gooey mud, cautiously extracting our feet as we try to minimize the sucking sounds.
My Music Man
Thanks to Columbia Land Trust, the still relatively pristine waters of Willapa Bay and those of the Peninsula are being protected. Willapa Bay is the second-largest estuary on the Pacific Coast consisting of 260 square miles. The Columbia Land Trust conserved its first Long Beach Peninsula property in 2001, and now supports eight projects encompassing 1,615 acres, including those we kayaked through this morning. More than 100,000 shorebirds rest and feed during spring migration, salmon species pass through the bay and they say sturgeon can be found in the bay itself. Although the waters remain pristine, we know that invasive species are a constant threat to the area.
So, for today, I breathe deeply and fill my lungs with clear, cool air. I watch a heron above us, wings outstretched. I think of the magical day of our now long ago treasure hunt: magic that our daughters will never forget that will perhaps keep reminding them that, above all the awful and scary, we need to make the good prevail. Not just for those of us lucky to escape the smoke, but for everyone. We do need to keep finding ways to create those good stories. And work as hard as we can to put the bad ones to rest.