It was the best of years, it was the worst of years. I’m pretty sure 2019 will have similar themes. Either way, as the year unfolds I hope for all of you the very best of the best and also the best of the worst.
This was the second New Year’s Day that I hiked around Elk Rock Island (and wrote about here), a chunk of ancient rock in the Willamette River. That makes it my new year tradition, though I’m guessing it unlikely that we’ll have yet another bright, sunny (but cold) January 1st in a row around here.
The island’s name comes from the cliffs directly across the river (the west bank) where local Indian tribes supposedly drove elk off the edge, later retrieving them from the water below. A tough way to die. In the earlier part of the last century the island was home to a rowing club and to a dance hall (that burned down), though there’s only traces left. Later still, the owner donated it to the city of Milwaukee (a Portland suburb) for our amusement and well-being.
The island is only accessible during “low water” times, which means nothing to me, because so far the river’s moods and will have seemed unpredictable. Give me ocean tides and I’m on it. But this river has some tidal influence, it has a rainy season and snow melt, and it may even have some dam water releases, so it’s hit and miss for me to know how I’ll find it. I’ve read you can only walk the land bridge out to the island in summer, but I’ve only been on January 1st, and the rocky channel was barely a challenge to cross, so there you are.
The island’s basalt rock dates back to an ancient volcano that erupted forty million years ago. 40. Million. Years. The oldest place in Portland, pre-dating by a lot the basalt rock around Portland that was laid down 10-25 million years ago. Which of course pre-dates by a lot our current state of affairs, both personal and political, and puts perspective on it all.
This awesome sense of history is something that I’ve only felt during travels in Europe and the Middle East where it’s not unusual to visit the ruins of something human-created thousands of years ago. Here on the west coast, anything older than 150 years ago is our ancient history, but most of the time we’re looking at blocks of new condo developments and the latest in skyscraper technology.
Though the island isn’t made by humans, the age contrast is stark, and an occasion to embrace the reminder that we are but a blip on the screen, a fraction of a second in the history of the earth. Now we dress in our hip logo-branded layers of warmth, look across the water at the large river front properties, take our sweater-wearing dogs for a walk, or bring our toy remote control trucks (yes, there were several), to a place where we’re reminded that once upon a time no humans walked, where human strife didn’t exist, where none of this, none of us, mattered.