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Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Columbia River

(Right click on highlighted text and photogaphs)

I fell in love with the Columbia River the first time I saw it at the Bonneville Dam. It had long been neutered by 450 dams and brought to its knees, as rivers go, by the time I saw it. But still the river focuses my attention and holds me in awe. It continues to be a mighty statement of endurance and continuity in a human world where all that is held dear may vanish at the stroke of a pen in an office on Wall Street or Washington.

The photograph below is of the Astoria-Megler Bridge in Astoria Oregon, (eight miles from the mouth of the Pacific Ocean)and is my attempt to represent the eternal nature of the river and the creatures that live from it. Long after man is washed off the shoreline out of existence this river will keep rolling and the life that remains will regroup and reorganize itself by virtue of the intelligence that brings life from inert materials. Some may think this gives them the right to pursue activities that harm it. Others see the river as a moral responsibility that begs them to treat it with respect. Thankfully the river is going to outlast the 450 dams and anyone that may build another dam. I’m gonna sit here and watch it as long as I can.

The Columbia River has quite a history.
The gorge was formed after at least a hundred pre-historic floods the size and cataclysmic violence of which the world had not seen before or since. These floods are now known as the Bretz floods. This designation is for the geologist Harlen Bretz who proved to the satisfaction of his scientific rivals after decades of debate, how the area got its topography. These floods came and went during the last ice age over a period of more than two thousand years. The result today is one of the most breathtaking places on the planet. Not only does the gorge offer spectacular vacation sights, but it allows you to see how it was swept clean and easily inspect layer upon layer the rock formations as they were laid down in lava flow after lava flow. I recommend buying this book.

“Did you know that the largest floods to occur on the planet happened here? During the last ice age, ice sheets covered much of Canada. One lobe of ice grew southward, blocking the Clark Fork Valley in Idaho. This 2,000 foot (600 meters) high ice dam blocked the river, creating a lake that stretched for hundreds of miles. When the lake was full, it contained 600 cubic miles (2,500 cubic kilometers) of water. How much is that? Imagine a block of water a mile high (as high as the mountains around Bonneville Dam), a miles wide, and stretching from Bonneville Dam to San Francisco!

Eventually, water traveled under the ice dam. The water drained out of the lake in two or three days, flooding eastern Washington. The flood, moving up to sixty miles per hour, scoured out hundreds of miles of canyons called coulees, created the largest waterfall to ever exist, and left 300 foot (90 meter) high gravel bars. At Bonneville, the water crested at 650 feet (200 meters). If you look on the cliffs southeast of the dam, you will see a transmission tower (the one with three poles) that is 200 feet (60 meters) above the high water mark.

During a period of 2,500 years as many as 100 of these floods scoured the Gorge.” Quotation from the USGS at the link above.

In the United States, the Columbia River is rivaled only by the Mississippi / Missouri river systems. The Mississippi, however, does not offer the spectacular signs of the geologic past that the Columbia River gorge offers even the casual tourist

Traditionally designated "The Great river of the West", scientists who think about these things categorize the Columbia as an endangered river. Its huge flow of water has been harnessed by as many as 450 dams. No other river system in the world has as many dams. At one time the area was an almost unlimited source of food and fur products for the entire world. Now those resources are inconsequential at best when compared to what appeared to be an inexhaustible quantity.

The witness in the diaries of the Lewis and Clark expedition tells of an amount of fish so staggering that it was almost beyond comprehension.
Today the fur trade is negligible if not absent, salmon fishing is reduced to the point that the salmon is endangered, and the river itself, choked with more than 400 dams bears no resemblance to the river that carved out the 3000 foot walls of the Columbia River gorge through which it passes.

This land is our land. Let’s not shit in our own bed anymore. If we do we have no reason to ask why it stinks.

This is a
Never forget, never again
4 / 20 / 2010

Copyright 2010 with thanks to the sources referenced by my links and in quotes.

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A practitioner of the art of living with the intent of learning how to die without fear.