I drove to see the aftermath of the 2020 forest fire that burned much of the Mt Hood National Forest along the upper reaches of the Clackamas River. I was on a story reconnaissance mission that would drive me 20-25 miles past Estacada, along the Clackamas River, past the Fish Creek Campground where I had camped 35 years ago and witnessed such bizarre behavior by Oregonians that I believe today helped turn me into a writer. The short story I want to write about that memory has been sloshing around my mind for year. Of course, once you start writing a story based on memory, it could change. It will change into something you never imagined. That’s the joy of writing fiction.
Some notes taken during the visit:
They were still clearcutting areas that had not been burned, which seems insane.
I noticed the elaborate and expensive in-stream watershed restoration efforts trying mitigate a century’s worth of industrial abuse, including the construction of a dam.
As I said, the clearcutting goes on and the dam keeps killing wild fish. Such is the contradiction of Oregonians and their abused watersheds. They just can’t go whole hog in on the healing. They already did on the murder.
I passed the charred remains of tens of thousand of trees. Some trees survived and have scorch marks. They’ll grow stronger as a result.
Campgrounds and boat launches were obliterated. Why does that make me happy? Simple. Less people to play or meditate in the watershed. But without time along this river some people might go insane. Such is another contradiction. Humans need nature and when many humans interact with nature, they often kill it.
I passed the phony fish hatchery propagating and releasing fake fish that deludes so many people that there is nothing wrong with Oregon’s watersheds.
Something arrested my imagination after noticing how the fire jumped some draws and gullies: this is where the old trees lurk and grow fat and tall.
But the same is not true in metaphor if a forest fire jumps a human being and therefore doesn’t allow the human being a chance to survive the fire after being burned or scorched. If the fire find you, you might get incinerated, or you might adapt after the singeing and grow a different way, perhaps a bit crooked, but growing nonetheless in unexpected ways before the fire hit. I know all about this.
Men harnessed by ropes installed steel mesh on the cliffs to keep rocks from falling on the roadway and smashing into vehicles.
A fog rolled in and landed on the tips of the black spars and it looked both painful and beautiful. A painting that should be painted.
(Note to self. Come up here when it begins to snow)
Foresters have spray painted blue marks on dead trees that must be removed because of potential danger to human beings although their presence nourishes wildlife. This is basic ecology, something almost never taught to kids in grade school. They get taught how to write basic code before anything about basic ecology.
A few trees survive here or there. How? Why this one and not that one? Just like human beings.
The river ran with incredible rolling pace after record spring rainfall and I marveled overlooking the exact spot we floated down the river drunk on blackberry brandy during a bone dry summer. I still wonder how we survived. One of us almost didn’t.
Yellow flagging blocked the entrance to the Fish Creek campground where all the aforementioned bizarre Oregon behavior went down. A sign said trespassers will be prosecuted. Think of that: arrested and prosecuted for trying to remember something.
I broke the law and explored the campground. It was charred but the undergrowth was bursting with colors of rebirth. Overhead, six or seven birds of prey rode the thermals. I never bothered to notice such things 35 years ago.
I saw broken ancient beer bottles and crushed cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon and Rockstar Pure Zero.
People are still partying here! And now it’s illegal! Oregon lives! Not everyone in Oregon is on a damn computer! Long live Oregon miscreants! I hope I write about them until I stop writing.
A log truck hugged my ass and then blew around me at 70 mph on a narrow stretch where the speed limit was 40. Death by Oregon log truck, not a bad way to die for an Oregon writer who loathes clearcuts. It might make the news and move some books.
Who were the Native American tribes that lived around here, moving up and down the river and creeks to harvest the salmon and game and plant life? They are all gone. Memories of them are gone except by those visiting the local history museum and seeing the old photos and artifacts. But what is that memory worth? What is my memory of camping at Fish Creek Campground worth? If I ever finish this story, ten people will read it.
All the bizarre and degenerate behavior I witnessed at the campground floated back to me as I traipsed through it. I laughed at some of it then. I laugh at all of it now. One image from them: an obese woman passed out on an inner tube, floating in the current, the tube tethered to a tree so she wouldn’t drift away.
I recalled something I read years ago about the Clackamas River. In 1908 or 1909 Rudyard Kipling visited the upper reaches and claimed the fly fishing was the best in the world. The great imperialist poet caught silvers and kings here!
But he never wrote a poem about it. Why?