Friday, February 9, 2007

Of water and trees...

Whenever, in the course of the daily hunt the red hunter comes upon a scene that is strikingly beautiful or sublime - a black thundercloud with the rainbow's glowing arch about the mountains, a white waterfall in the heart of a green gorge; a vast prairie tinged with the blood-red of sunset - he pauses for an instant in the attitude of worship. He sees no need for setting apart one day in seven as a holy day, since to him all days are God's.

- Charles Eastman (Ohiyesa) (The Soul of the Indian, Houghton Mifflin, Boston & New York, 1911)


At Opal Creek folks often mention the sound of voices especially down close to the water. Some hear kids laughing, others hear song, some hear music. Always muted, never quite clear enough to catch the words, I know that sound that scratches at the psyche, that makes a person strain to hear more.

Never less alone than when alone...

When I arrived at Jawbone that spring of '90 I embarked on a journey that was a whole greater than the sum of the parts. We worked surrounded by rock and tree and water, all relatively unchanged since the last ice age. The giant trees here, some standing when Columbus stumbled into the isles of the Caribbean and brought death and mayhem to the Arawak, have grown on the bodies of their ancestors, who themselves grew upon the fallen before them, and so on, back thousands of years.

Some people think of an old-growth forest as all ancient trees but a forest is a successsional process. Fire, blowdown from high winds and wind bursts, rock slides... whatever the cause, the forest changes, is born anew and grows ancient again.

We hosted a lot of students, from grade school on up to university level. We relished the kids. Paul and I would put on our best miner voices for the young ones. I mean we looked the part, we were gruff and often a tad scruffy. Put a bit of pirate gravel into the voice and entertain 'em a bit while delivering an educational schtick. One of the most asked questions was a basic one: "what do you mine?"

The answer of course, should be academic. But oh no. The answer was a simple one, tried and true...

"Our own business," Paul would exclaim and the kids would laugh and Paul would laugh... and then we'd go into the truth. The lesson wasn't ever as funny but we had the kids attention. Back then, before formal protection we advocated for people to drink the water right out of the streams. Because you could. Drink the water right out of the steams. Still can, but now they can't "recommend" it. Even though they still drink it...

And that water is pure because of the forest. Filtered thru a canopy of bark, limb, leaf and needle; past moss and lichen and dashed on rocks, aerated and chilled... water that should be recognized for its quality. Among the early supporters of Opal Creek was the city of Salem, Oregon's capitol. The Little North Fork of the Santiam (its headwaters being Opal Creek and Battle Axe Creek) provides Salem with 20% of its drinking water.

Many hikers, familiar with Jawbone's neighbor over the mountain, Breitenbush Hot Springs would ask us if there were any hot springs. And we'd have to tell them that no, we didn't. But we did have lots of cold water. And cold was an understatement. 10 second water is what I called it...

And there were those who would devastate it all for the timber. Opal Creek was not a place well loved by the local communities; Detroit, Idanha, Gates, Lyons, Mill City, Mehama... This was logging country and no ragtag band of enviroh-mentalists was going to stop those chainsaws. Folks like Rob Freres of Freres Lumber swore to log the area. And there were others like Tom Hirons, old friends with George Atiyeh and one of the previous miners that resided in my cabin # 6. Tom was a logger and owned a small logging company and opposed the saving of Opal Creek.

I met Tom and we got along well. His wife ran the video store in Mill City. In talking to George just a couple of weeks ago I learned Tom had recently passed on. Sigh... Like the water, like the trees, we all move on. Some are blessed, some are cursed, some go unnoticed but few have a legacy that includes a gem like Opal Creek. RIP Tom...


When time comes for us to again rejoin the infinite stream of water flowing to and from the great timeless ocean, our little droplet of soulful water will once again flow with the endless stream.

- William E. Marks The Holy Order Of Water
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