Lost river

There was a place very special in my heart, a river like no other. This river was home to some of the healthiest numbers of large native steelhead around. These fish evolved to be big and strong. Only the biggest and strongest fish of the run could leap the numerous large waterfalls to make it to the prime spawning grounds to pass along their superior genes. The fish were magnificent, they had to be. The river was more beautiful than you could imagine. Steep canyon walls giving way to shaded emerald green pools, separated by whitewater shoots and fierce rapids. The canyon walls covered in a dense canopy of green, old-growth snags, moss covered cliffs, lush ferns and an abundance of wildlife. When you entered this special canyon, you felt as though you had gone back in time.  You could hike as far as you wanted along the old train tracks laid by my grandfather’s generation. Pacing strides with the old rail ties you could get lost in the distance you had traveled. Each new river bend brought with it more opportunities to spot the quarry you only dream about encountering. The rail bed provided the perfect viewing platform to stalk the huge, elusive steelhead that swam below and plan your approach to present your offering. These fish had the equivalent of a PhD in angler awareness and were not likely to stick around after one preemptive mend, or careless cast. All of this is unfortunately a thing of the past for the next foreseeable future.

The heavy rains that last winter delivered to the Oregon Coast mountains were too much for the newly clear-cut ridge tops of this epic canyon to handle. The ground saturated past its threshold and gravity won pulling enormous slides down every tiny ravine. Along with it came countless trees, logs, house-sized boulders and metric tons of mud. It would have been manageable had it only came down a few of those tiny gullies which usually only add a trickle to the volume of this river. That was not the case. Every gully, ravine and canyon containing any amount of tributary water blew out with the force of military weapons. This was too much for the river to handle.

There are no more deep emerald pools. No moss covered boulders. No streamside vegetation. Everything that was once a permanent feature in this river was blasted down stream scouring out the once healthy stream channel with it. All that is left is a big mess.
A wide, sterile, rock-laden river channel and a pathetic shallow, dirty, flume of current racing down the middle of it. In the river tar soaked railroad ties and long steel rails. Where there were once green mossy fern covered banks are now cliffs of mud and rock. These sites made me very depressed.

The logging crew who had worked clearing the ridge tops 16 months before had no concept of what might be below, and what repercussions might follow such activities.

I find it ironic that irresponsible clear-cut logging is to blame for the destruction of the rail line that was used to haul milled logs form the coast to shipping and population centers in the valley.

This is what it looks like now, the river should have been gin clear this day.

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~ by theriverwrites on March 5, 2009.

One Response to “Lost river”

  1. Beautiful transformative writing that returned me to the river that once was. It feels like one of those railroad spikes has been driven into my chest. We must not turn our backs on this type of man-made destruction. Get involved. Nature can be brutal especially on this fragile coastal tributary but it somehow always finds a balance when wielding it’s strength. Thanks for bringing attention to this catastrophe once again.

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