Laura O. Foster is author of Portland Hill Walks and Columbia Gorge Getaways. She lives in the west hills above Highway 30 north of Sauvie Island. Last summer Foster shared tips on riding the ‘Trail of the Gods’ from Stevenson (WA) to Cascade Locks.
The Columbia Gorge. Three Days Ago. Today.
1:00 a.m. today: The smell of burning forest punched through an already-uneasy sleep. I stepped outside, sniffing, looking through the dark for flames, afraid our land was on fire.
But it wasn’t this forest’s turn. This fire is ravaging the Columbia Gorge. A teenage boy, or two boys, throwing fireworks off a cliff, started this Eagle Creek Fire, named for a place so magnificent it was chosen for the first-in-the-nation Forest Service campground, 101 years ago.
A hike into its green canyon is a memory to marvel over, a sanctuary to introduce to ones we love. It’s part of us, our story, our pride as stewards of this Pacific Northwest we are lucky enough to live in. We take our guests there. See? Isn’t it magnificent?
Those boys. Their rationale and lack of foresight are hard for a middle-aged woman to fathom. But they could not have guessed this expanding conflagration, this destruction, fear, sadness, death, disruption, grief. Do they even know about the east wind?
I feel sorry for them, and for their parents.
That wind keeps bringing me bits of our beautiful gorge. Through my screens come tiny black shards that lived, three days ago, as old growth Douglas fir bark. On my porch floor is grey ash. Three days ago, it was a branch woven into a bald eagle’s nest, or the dried grass in a mouse’s burrow, or the insect-laden trunk of a snag. The pileated woodpecker who mined that tree is somewhere safe, I hope. The insects… they’re atomized, small victims of human stupidity.
A friend reported seeing red-tailed hawks yesterday, circling near the burning woods. My heart cracked a bit with that news. Those confident predators, confused now, not yet able to leave what they had to leave.
The land will recover. In a few hundred years it will be back to where it was, three days ago.
Keep updated on Gorge developments post fire via Friends of the Columbia Gorge. They’re also on Facebook. Friends will keep reporting news, work parties, and ways to get involved. And next time you’re in the Gorge, help businesses recover from the economic shock of the fire: buy a meal, spend the night, update your outdoor gear, or buy some art or crafts in one of the Gorge towns, in Washington and Oregon.
— Laura O. Foster
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