By R.B. Moreno
Along with hatchery fish and hydroelectricity, rivers drawn to the Pacific carry a rare quality of discovery, the kind that draws me back to Steinbeck's The Log from the Sea of Cortez, Kevin Patterson's The Water in Between, the works of Nathaniel Philbrick, and Moby-Dick. (I find this less true of mid-Atlantic waterways.)
I learned to swim under a train bridge at the Lewis River, a tributary of the Columbia that runs from a cold volcano. I can still taste the fright of losing touch with the sandy bottom. The knifing paws of an anxious dog. The kernels of fresh corn that would fall through the railroad ties.
I also learned to paddle a kayak here. It's a craft that can take a person into places unseen from Interstate 5, which too often defines geography in this part of the Northwest. That first kayak arrived in a duffel bag from Guatemala. A decade earlier, my father's Folbot had carried him along the verdant shores of Lake Atitlan, beneath volcanoes more prone to spitting fire. The old blue behemoth only lasted a few years on the Lewis; it's been replaced by a slim yellow thing of hard plastic, with a steel rudder.
Today's paddle offered all the intrigue of those early ventures into the unknown. Launching in a cold, Valentine's Day rain. A freight train barreling across the bridge overhead. Muffled shotgun blasts, then snow geese rising from thickets of red maple. A lone man on a bicycle atop the dike. Rounding the bend, the prow of a barn at sunset and the sharp stench of manure.
I find tracks on a little beach left alongside mine, I imagine, by fat, dancing raccoons. A rainbow disappears into the dusk. My paddle upsets a beaver looking for dinner. A silent eagle is glowering from on high. From some hidden, riverine world.