Friday, July 16, 2010


Ospreys really hate eagles. You can tell when one has its nemesis in sight – it flies over the river fast and straight with a bad attitude. When you see that, sure enough, there will be a bald eagle cruising through the osprey’s home territory.

Eagles are bigger but osprey are more agile in an aerial fight. They dive like a missile, honed by a life of dizzying crashes into the river to catch fish. The beleaguered eagle, with its own acrobatics, often does a barrel roll to escape.

Surely there are enough fish in this stretch of the Umpqua River for a few eagles but the two resident ospreys will have none of it. They want the fish all to themselves and their babies sitting high on the nest platform built by the farmers who own all this land along the river. While I fish the farmers work their fields of blueberries and grapes, irrigated by the river’s water, and make wonderful Umpqua Valley wines.

A share of the fish does go to other resident critters – river otters, great blue herons, mergansers, sometimes grebes. Dead fish get snapped up by a big flock of vultures that live here and by raccoons that prowl the river banks. They all seem to coexist with the ospreys just fine.

Just below the rapids you can hover the boat almost motionless in the mid-river eddies while deep, dark currents sweep by carrying stories I can’t read. A bullfrog croaks. Cedar waxwings twitter above, catching bugs on the fly.

I feel like that sometimes, hanging in the current, levitated from life while others’ stories sweep past. It’s a good feeling. A luxury. Fighting nothing.

A friend sent me an email titled “This is going by way too fast.” It is. Yet while time lasts I’m blessed to spend much of it here on this river, chasing bass or steelhead or coho salmon or chinook salmon or shad, depending on the time of year. Watching beavers swimming, deer drinking. It is a glorious place with every nook and cranny filled with life. Yellow-breasted chats chattering in the riverside shrubs; day after day, all spring and summer, they sing the same songs from the same place every year. You can count on it. Huge ungainly turkeys flop into the air to then glide silently across the river looking for a fresh crop of acorns, talking quietly among themselves.

Patchworks of greens coat the mountains, cut-over with hardwoods and conifer mixes. Douglas fir is king, quickly outgrowing all the other trees. Grassy meadows are baked brown; summer rain in Oregon is as rare as winter rain is common.

The river’s basement is exposed here and there. Because of winter floods – placid summer flows can rise thirty feet then – the bedrock stays bare. Thick stone layers tilted to the modern sky were once layers of mud and sand on the bottom of an ancient ocean of our imagination. With momentum starting from 6,000 feet high in the Cascade Mountains, the river slices through these rocks, over eons finding fault cracks where the continent has shifted along its margin with the Pacific Ocean. In places the river narrows and its depth quickly drops to sixty feet.

Now here I am, 50 million years after sediments from long-gone mountains eroded into long-gone oceans by long-gone rivers, loading up my little boat with a select few chunks of this rocky mélange for my home landscaping on another small mountainside 45 miles north of here. A long strange trip, indeed, that me and my new old rocks are taking.

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