Sue and Mo at Harris Beach

Sue and Mo at Harris Beach
Sue and Mo at Harris Beach

Saturday, October 7, 2023

10-07-2023 Alone in the Lovely Dark at 4AM

Pre-Dawn Mental Meanderings:

 I woke up at 3:30, lying in the silent dark except for the faint orange glow from the bedroom curtains.  The glow is from the deep orange light bulbs for the porch lights that I found at Home Depot last week.  It lends a spooky, perfectly gentle, warm light to early October darkness.  I love October.  I love Halloween, mostly for the happiness-inducing decorations that I put up not a day later than October 1 and sometimes a few days earlier.  I read recently on some news page that putting up fall decor is good for one's mental health, and that orange is a happy color.  

I kept thinking about the month past, September, and could barely remember it.  Talking with my daughter yesterday, she moaned that she had "completely lost September".  I get it.  I think I lost it as well.  Thank goodness I have photos and a calendar to remind me of most of it, but it takes sitting down at the computer, in the dark quiet of pre-dawn, for me to actually remember September.  I don't want to lose my memories, so I write them down. 

On a sunny Friday afternoon in early September, Mo and I enjoyed some music and wine at Schmidt Winery, a favorite.

I take way too many photos, simply to remember.  In this latter part of my seventh decade, I know that remembering isn't what it used to be, so I write.  Somehow, writing this way, in a blog, is so much different than a simple journal.  Here I have to pay attention, I need to be a little bit creative instead of simply tracking the facts.  

So I write about 4AM with a cup of good coffee wandering around the outside of the house, taking photos of the orange lights. The stars were bright and sharp, and the early morning moon was a quarter crescent rising in the east.  Suddenly I was accompanied by coyotes, singing the morning awake.  

Mapping in Nez Perce country along the Clearwater in 1987

Yes, Coyote is a friend of mine.  Coyote said hello to me this morning and it made me smile.  It was in the mid-80s when I was working alone in Coyote country in Idaho that I first realized that I had a special bond with the spirit of Coyote.  It helped that I was also working with the Nez Perce, mapping their lands along the Clearwater River, spending time at the Visitor Center, talking and laughing with Nez Perce leaders, and reading the stories about Coyote and the special bond that the Nez Perce have with this spirit. I dreamed of Coyote often and in my dreams, he would speak to me.  As my life changes, as I forget the magic of those years and live an ordinary life, I forget what that life felt like until I am out in the dark and hear coyotes sing.

Now back to September, and our everyday life. 

Mo and I visited Daughter Deborah at her new magical forest tiny home in Trail early in the month.  After we visited there, Deb followed us back to a fun restaurant that we discovered this summer, with the best patty melt I ever tasted and a cold PBR in the lounge portion of the Triple Tree Restaurant out in the middle of nowhere.

I also had a birthday that I completely forgot until I wrote about it this morning and saw the photos.  I was thrilled to receive the coziest, fluffiest bathrobe I have ever owned for a fabulous birthday present from Mo.  

Mo and Deborah took me to dinner at the finest restaurant here in Grants Pass for a lovely birthday meal.  

The rest of the first part of September was lost in late summer garden chores, me cleaning up and trimming all the overgrown plants, Mo doing maintenance projects on the MoHo trying to figure out the battery problem, and finally ordering a new sealed battery. 

Mo has a goal that she has carried ever since she first bought the MoHo more than fifteen years ago.  She wants to be sure that we get out at least once every month.  It can be for a couple of days or even a simple overnight trip, or like last year, two full months on the road in part of August, all of September, and part of October.  This year we have stayed closer to home.  We decided last year when we returned from the "big trip" to New York City and the East Coast that summer trips during "watering season" would be limited to a few days at most.  We love our home.  I love the flowers and the trees and shrubs that we have planted that are thriving beyond any possible expectation in this Grants Pass zone 7, and maybe even zone 8 with a bit of global warming.  

I have never lived where I could leave a dahlia in the ground and watch it bloom year after year.  It is good to be close in the summer and save the long trips for the seven months of the year that we don't have to think about the well or worry about the flowers.

Our September trip was a special one.  When Mo and I camped just north of Portland on Sauvie Island last spring and visited the small towns where Mo grew up, we thought how much fun it would be to share a camping trip there with Mo's brother and his wife Chere.  We made reservations months ago for Reeder Beach RV Park,  two sites facing the river, side by side, for four days in mid-September.  I looked forward to hearing Mo's stories of growing up along the Columbia River told from Dan's perspective as a young boy growing up in Columbia City, Oregon. 

The drive north was an easy one, with very little traffic on the interstate and perfect weather.  Dan and Chere were already settled into their site when we arrived.  There were fire pits along the edge of the river.  None of us wanted to walk the extra 50 feet or so for a campfire and Dan carried a metal firepit from another site and put it right in between our two rigs.  We used that fire pit every evening, laughing and talking after supper as we watched the boat traffic on the mighty Columbia River.

Mattie loves to camp with Dan and Chere's dog, Sophie.  They play and play and Sophie is so gentle with Mattie, getting down low enough to be on Mattie's level.  

All of us were amazed at the volume of boats that traveled that river day and night.  We saw barges hauling grain that may have originated in the Palouse fields of Eastern Washington, loaded to the barge in Lewsiton, carrying as much grain in a single barge that could be moved by 17 railroad cars. The soft white wheat grown in the great fields of the inner Northwest is coveted by Asian countries for the fine noodles that it makes.  Most of the wheat grown in Washington and Idaho makes its way there by way of the mighty Columbia, and then crossing the Pacific Ocean. 

We saw fancy white paddlewheelers with a big red paddlewheel hauling invisible tourists along the river. We saw not a single person on deck on those boats.  Maybe it was too cold, or maybe it was a dinner cruise and everyone was inside eating.  Who knows.  It was a mystery that we talked about every time one of those boats passed.

Sometimes huge gray ships of unknown origin with indecipherable logos entertained us.  The noise of the boats and ships wasn't especially intrusive, even at night, and I slept like a baby the entire time we were camped. 

The Columbia is a VERY busy river.

On Tuesday, our first full day, we explored the island.  In the morning we traveled north toward the refuge to determine where we might launch our kayaks.  When Mo and I visited last Spring, most of the refuge waters were closed due to nesting migrating birds.  We thought maybe in the late summer there would be fewer closures on the refuge and possibly a place to launch our kayaks.

There are two lakes that show up on the refuge maps, but with a bit of driving we discovered that they may be open to kayaking, but late summer also brings low water and the muck wasn't the least bit inviting.  

We did find a boat launch on the west side of the island on the Multnomah Channel that looked like a possible kayak site.  It was a beautiful day, with full sunshine, but we planned to explore on this first day and then kayak on the next two days.  

An easy walk with the kayaks to launch on the Columbia River

We found a beautiful beach on the Columbia at the far northern extent of the road near the Warrior Rock Lighthouse trail.  We knew that hiking the 3 miles to the lighthouse wasn't an option, but did have a bit of hope that we could make it there in the kayaks.  On this gorgeous day, it might have been possible with the smooth water and no wind. We saved the plan for Thursday when the weather gods predicted another sunny day to follow a rainy Wednesday.

Sophie and Mattie loved running on the sandy beach.  Sophie also loves to swim, but it wasn't enough to tempt Mattie into the water.  The four of us simply sat on the logs enjoying the sunshine and watching more river traffic.

After meandering around some refuge roads near the lakes, we returned to camp for a bit of lunch and some resting time.  

Our afternoon was spent exploring the southern half of the island, where there are many flower and pumpkin farms, and one especially inviting place with u-pick flowers, a coffee shop, a gift shop, and a big produce store.  

I bought an especially delightful striped squash that was much too beautiful to eat and ended up as part of the October decor at home.

The flowers on the island are gorgeous, with all sorts of creative displays adorning the roadways. The afternoon was perfect, and once we were back home, Dan and Chere took their chairs out to the riverside to watch the boats going by.

Those beautiful puffy white clouds were a precursor to a beautiful rain that started falling during the night and continued into the next day.  It was a perfect time for the four of us to drive north to Columbia City where Dan and Mo grew up.  

Mo and I took so many pictures of the family home the last time we traveled this way that I didn't think to do so on this trip.  Still, Dan was amazed at how well the old house had held up so beautifully and is well cared for.

As we drove around Columbia City and St Helens, Dan told many stories of his memories of growing up along the banks of the Columbia River.  In a family with 2 girls and 3 boys,  you can imagine the "boy stories" that we heard.  We topped off the afternoon with a late lunch/early dinner at the Pour House on the Old Portland Highway, a comfortable tavern where Dan was fairly certain their father stopped for a beer now and then after work.

We knew that there was only one day of rainy weather before the sun was to return on Thursday.  We left early to launch the boats at the location we found at the lighthouse trail.  The water was a bit choppy due to the morning winds, but we launched without incident, hoping to make it to the lighthouse.

Dan was a bit worried that Sophie, being a water dog that loved to swim, might try to jump off the kayak.  She was perfect, and now Dan doesn't have to worry any more about taking her out in the boat.  He told us later that he had been worrying about this for days before the actual trip.

What I didn't consider, however, was the effect of an upriver wind combined with an incoming tide and a downriver current.  Those three things coming together made for a bit of a rough ride, and after a mile or so Dan and Chere decided to turn around.  I was getting a bit nervous with the choppy water, but Mo paddled on ahead of me and I did my best to keep up.

Mo looked back and saw me with a very large ship bearing down on me.  Of course, neither of us could hear each other, but we managed to get our boats to the shoreline in time to be ready for the wave from the ship.  Suddenly it felt like the movies when a tidal wave approaches. With the approaching boat, the water receded and suddenly our boats were sitting on the muddy bottom of the river.  Seconds later the big wave came back toward us.  I was extremely glad that we weren't out on the river when that boat passed us.  But with that bit of excitement, we decided we had enough of the Mighty Columbia and a kayak trip to the Warrior Rock Lighthouse would have to wait for another day, a day that would be less challenging without the tides and wind.

Mo and Mattie on the river and if you look closely you can see the Warrior Rock Lighthouse on the peninsula in the distance on the right side of the photo.

We returned to camp, worn out but happy that we had managed to get the boats in the water at least once on this trip.  The evening campfire started early and ended late into the evening after a joint meal of burgers on the grill and good conversation. 

One very special thing about Dan is his willingness to help with any kind of mechanical problem that might be a bit too much for Mo to handle alone.  Mo brought the new battery she had purchased for the MoHo and Dan said he was happy to help install it.  We decided that I would take the car and Mattie and go home to Grants Pass and Mo would follow Dan home to their place in Beavercreek.  Dan and Mo worked on the rig, installing the battery, doing generator maintenance and tune-up, and a couple of other things.  With such difficulty finding anyone to actually work on a motorhome without a long wait, it is truly wonderful to have such help.  

Late September was beautiful, with a gorgeous soaking rain and cooler temperatures than we rarely see this early in the season.  It was such a relief to see the thirsty pasture grass soak up the moisture and begin the return to the beautiful, soft green that I love.