Working the River, The Enjoyment of Revisiting Old Haunts, Palouse Falls Hiking, and Loafing
09/24/2011 70 °F
I’m back in the lower forty-eight once again, working on the boat that sails up and down the Columbia, Willamette, Snake, and Palouse Rivers. It’s a good gig. It is fun to travel a river that requires a lot of nautical skill, vigilance, and know how to navigate it. Our watch officers are busy, and it’s good to see them ply their craft. Baja and Alaska aren’t nearly as navigationally interesting or challenging as our Columbia River trips.
As for me, it’s good work. Each week we travel just under a thousand miles, making our way from Portland, Oregon to Clarkston, Washington, and returning down river to Astoria, Oregon, and finishing the trip in Portland. I know it sounds like a lot of illogical travel, but it is a good route that I will be traveling for the next six weeks.
One of the stops we make along the way is on the Palouse River. I’ve written about the Palouse Falls area before, just about a year ago in fact. Palouse Falls is one of my favorite places in Washington State, and I decided to take advantage and hike down to see the expansive canyon and falls once again. I really like revisiting parks and natural places I’ve been to before. It’s kind of like visiting an old friend. I like to see if there are any changes, and find new nooks and crannies or views that I haven’t discovered yet.
I caught the zodiac to shore well before the guests disembarked, and had quite a bit of time to compose some images in the strong morning light. Most of the land was tan, faded grass of late summer, but in contrast, there were large bushes of yellow flowers and sunflowers blooming along the hillsides. We anchor near a rock outcrop named by the Palouse Indians of the region as the “Heart of the Beaver.” The rock sits high above the river, and makes for a nice backdrop.
When everyone else arrived on shore, we climbed onto the school bus and made our way to the falls.
I knew exactly where I was going, so while everyone else went straight for the tourist view of the falls, I headed left to the trail that would take me down to the lip of the falls. I was surprised by the amount of birds around. There were many songbirds, warblers, sparrows and the like, and they were all eating seeds from the sunflowers.
I slid down the gravel talus pile next to the railroad bed. I more or less crouched down on one boot and skiied it, using my hands as balance when I needed it, and I was down in under a minute. Sometimes, you just have to let yourself go.
I walked the familiar trail downstream to the falls. It felt good to be hiking, and I was enjoying the warm sunshine, the sounds of the river, and excited to see what awaited me just around the bend.
I brought my camera, of course, but I didn’t have any expectations of taking photos I hadn’t taken here on previous trips. However, when I reached the gaping canyon I found myself working new angles I hadn’t done before, seeing the falls, and surrounding countryside in new ways. I was inspired, and pleasantly surprised, by my excitement. I was once again in my element.
I love this place. I can’t wait to come back again in the next few weeks. In a moment of inspiration, I climbed up the thin rock fingers that sit like an audience above the falls. I found some shade, I found a perch, and that was all I needed. I sat on my rock throne, twenty feet higher than the rocky slope that sits atop the sheer cliff of the waterfall wall. Perfect. I looked out at the surrounding canyon, and took in all my senses could offer me.
It was a good morning, and I want to spend a couple of days at Palouse Falls, not just a couple of hours. I wearily hiked back to the parking lot, stopping at the upper falls to dunk my head in the water. It was cool and refreshing, and I thought about jumping in. The thought passed, and so did I.
Back on top of the bluff, I looked over the canyon and found more gorgeous views. The compositions of the Palouse are quite fetching. I finished off my day by loafing. Loafing is a wonderful pastime. Lin Yutang, writes in “The Importance of Living” that, “The first thought that the jungle beast would have is that man is the only working animal.” And this is true! Too many of us work way too hard, and would be far better off lying flat on a cool picnic table in the shade of a large copse of trees that are filled with the songs of birds. I did this very thing at the park, with my backpack as a pillow, and the warm breeze as my blanket, I fell asleep to the chirping of the birds. As I lay there I had the thought, that I should just stay here, and sleep away the afternoon. This was the good life, and I was enjoying it.
Alas, I didn’t make good on my pleasant thought (yet). Like the good american I am, I went back to work to live to toil another day.
However, this little nap I had in the park has planted a seed of a plan in my mind. It won’t be long before it bears fruit, and this vagabond will be free once again.