Steigerwald Lake, North of the Columbia

I hiked along the Columbia River on the Washington side for a northern perspective, and new (to me) viewpoint. It always feels good to flip your view in some way. It was in fact quite different than my Oregon hikes along the Columbia Gorge, where the trails take you along steep, dramatic, thickly forested trails that have been forged into the volcanic mountains by hardy explorers and hikers. The trails are lined with waterfalls crashing down into creeks that then feed the Columbia, and offer glimpses of that river from high overhead. It’s always dramatic, even in the slower summer and fall season; intensity in the water flow, in the greenery, in the contrast from earth to sky.

Now these trees, wooden bridges, and trails are a bit singed, or outright burnt and blackened from the recent Eagle Creek Fire. Highway 84 was closed for a few weeks, cutting off towns, commerce and recreation in either direction, and filled the state with smoke and ash. I’ve only seen photos, since many areas are still closed to the public, but it looks so familiar to my southern California experience of forest fires – burning in a mosaic pattern, some areas more severe than others, some more in need of human healing, some poised for landslides and rockfall as the winter rains fall in earnest, bringing those creeks back to their mighty flow. I thought I was done with this when I left California, but climate change has been intensely noticeable these past years, with heavy rain, big snowfalls, searing heat, and now more fires across the state.

On the northern river shore I walked paths through the Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge which took me through bucolic, gentle rolling hills, pastures and long views, gentle rises and watery bogs and wetlands, level with the shore of the Columbia – quite the peaceful contrast to the other more dramatic side.

The Refuge promised large numbers and varieties of birds, but alas, they were elsewhere on the day I visited, and I was left to admire a few small garter snakes, a pond turtle, a few groups of ducks and geese, lovely grasses, water lilies and meandering watery paths alongside the mighty Columbia.

It was rainy last week and will be again next week, but now we’re in between, summery with a tinge of fall color, bright sunshine with a breeze. Here the Columbia looks inviting and navigable. Across from the trail there’s a small island, reachable only by boat, where a lone red tent stands on its shore. No humans or boats nearby show it occupied, and I was ready to jump in, swim across and move on in.

Breathing in the air that’s been kissed by big waters is all I need to keep my spirits up – challenging when the world is on fire or flooded and we have a madman at the helm. This is what I do stay afloat.

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