Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Wildfire Burns, Breaks Hearts in Oregon

There's no other way to say it: I am devastated.

The Eagle Creek Fire in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge is turning a lifetime of memories to ash. The geography of a life spent traveling its trails, byways, forests, streams and rivers is being consumed in fire. Childhood trips to Multnomah Falls to stand on the dainty Benson Footbridge gaping at the impossibly high water cascading over a cliff and thundering into a pool far below, then having a lunch of luscious salmon sandwiches—so much more decadent than our standard Bumble Bee—in its stone lodge.

Stonework on the old highway near Oneonta.

Driving up and down its length to Eastern Oregon for family holidays with grandparents, then, later, riding the Greyhound home from college after my folks moved to The Dalles. And after college, that drive, always fraught in the winter months, not sure what challenge we'd face between Cascade Locks and Hood River. Blinding snow and black ice, driving winds that would buffet my little car like it was in a pinball machine at the mercy of a demented player.

Oneonta tunnel, before the fire.

The stunning beauty of the soaring rock cliffs shooting up from the wide expanse of the river, sheer expanses carpeted in Douglas fir and dotted with little towns—Bridal Veil, Dodson, Warrendale—along the way. Growing up, a stop at the Charburger in Cascade Locks for coffee and, if we begged enough, a piece of pie, was de riguer; a tradition that Dave and I continued for years with our own son.

Spectacular woodcraft in Oneonta tunnel, now gone.

We'd see its hills change from the pale green of spring to the richer hues of summer, then explode into the vibrant palette of fall. A profusion of lupine, daisies, penstemon, vetch, buttercups, Douglasia, kitten tail and other wildflowers would dot creeks and roadways, trees cackling with birdcalls.

It was a gem that we'd reveal to visitors, saying, "Oh, let's drive to Hood River for a beer," then stun them with stops along the historic highway, listening to them gasp at its waterfalls, as we'd tell them about the Italian stonemasons who crafted its moss-covered parapets, railings and bridges.

Oneonta tunnel after the fire.

As my brother said, "A big part of a lot of our lives lies in ruins." It will take at least a generation, or more, to recover.

Donations can be made to Friends of the Columbia Gorge, designated to search and rescue operations, or to Trailkeepers of Oregon, which will be working on restoration efforts. Video at top from 2010.


tbpc800 said...

Such beautiful photos and videos. Thank you for this article.

Kathleen Bauer said...

Thanks, Toni. Hope it helps!

Kerry McFall said...

Kathleen - I was glad we got to meet in Troutdale at the wedding before the big fires had their way with that area. So sad, so difficult to comprehend.

Kathleen Bauer said...

Thanks, Kerry. And thanks for reading!