Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Meeting of the Waters

Sunday Merlin and I rode out to Kelley Point Park, about six miles from our house, to see the place where the Willamette River flows into the Columbia. It is not as dramatic as the meeting of the waters of the Amazon and the Rio Negro in Brazil, where it looks like cream being slowly poured into black coffee. In fact, the marker says Lewis and Clark failed to notice the Willamette as they went down the Columbia and again as they came back up it, even though they'd been told there was another great river right in the neighborhood.

That point is also the spot where the city of Portland ends. Even though we now live in the big City, we live at the extreme end of it, and it is a place where extreme beauty and extreme ugliness can be seen with just a quick turn of the head. Or without turning even. To get to Kelley Point, you ride a bike path with Smith and Bybee lakes on your left, a beautiful wildlife area, and the rather sci-fi-ish Marine Drive industrial landscape on your right. Over your left handlebar, woods, waterfowl and fish, over your right, large square buildings, all deserted for the weekend (or WERE they?), and railroad tracks. It's eerie.

Our own home is barely south of Columbia Boulevard. So we are surrounded by an old Portland neighborhood (not a fancy one, but kind of a cozy one), yet one block away to the north is an area that will never be residential and is covered with railroad tracks, a water treatment plant, heavy manufacturing. That area is also home to the Columbia slough, a great place to walk and see wildlife, provided you don't mind your wildlife against a backdrop of aging warehouses or the Portland International Raceway. (It's also home to the lost city of Vanport, which washed away 63 years ago last weekend, about which we've been reading and Googling obsessively lately, more about which another time.)

Oddly, I don't mind too much. It's surprisingly quiet here despite all that so close. And train whistles sing me back to sleep when I wake in the night. I live where humans live, and we are unfortunately a messy species. And really, you can't spit in this place and not hit some sort of a park (I have no idea how we pay for that!), so I take the blessing with the curse and try not to add too much to the latter.