Wapato, Rhymes with Clamato

Majestic-Wet-LionPortland, Oregon doesn’t have a winter, it has a rainy season, and it comes in like a lion–a smelly, dripping, flat-furred lion. We go from “Have you noticed a nip in the air?” to “Damnit, I left the car windows open!” in the space of a week. Mother Nature wears one of those daisies on her lapel that squirts water.

Our moisture runs the gamut. It rains, sprinkles, drizzles, dews, mists, fogs, frosts, drips, graupels, and rarely snows. Nobody carries an umbrella because our precipitation has learned to travel sideways and hit us below the belt. Mildew is our state flower.

images (9)As a polar mammal, I become positively ebullient below 60 degrees so I take the rain that comes with it in stride. I can layer winter clothes with the best of them and if that includes waterproof gear, so be it. But humidity, that’s a whole ‘nother bottle of Xanax. I don’t like sticking to the air.

The Wapato Access Greenway State Park, or “that other trail on Sauvie Island” is a fine way to inhale the sweet, musty smells of autumn and take in the colors with minimal water damage to one’s socks. The trail is wide, mostly gravel, and occasionally even turns into boardwalk.I hit it on a Friday afternoon before the school buses vomited out their squalling masses. The temperature was perfect. Nimbostratus lumbered by overhead in swatches of grey while fractus chased itself around below. It was so humid you could slice the air like a stick of warm butter.Gigantic bigleaf maple leaves layered the trail, damping my footsteps, but I could swear one of my boots was squeaking. There it was again…squeak…squeak…squeak. I stopped. The sound continued all around me. Squeaks were answering squeaks. When I leaned down to photograph some mushrooms, one of the squeaks hopped away.Pacific tree frogs. They were tiny but if they had sharp teeth and poison, this would’ve been a horror movie: there were thousands. If you stood still, leaves started scrambling and leaping in crazy directions. I used the break to adjust a sweaty t-shirt.

The frogs’ sliminess attached them handily to everything they aimed at, they were like little brown suction cup missiles. There was some kind of suction keeping my t-shirt pressed to my back.

A garter snake with electric blue racing stripes running down both sides posed on some willow branches nearby in a tightly wrapped coil, but he slid away before I could lean in for a photo. I was pretty sure I was sweating from my eyebrows now.

When I passed into an open area, a gliding Red-tailed hawk screamed the moment he was directly ten feet overhead. He was gorgeous. He did loop-de-loops around the tops of golden alders and orange oaks, looking for snack food. I was at my melting point now, there was some kind of sauce lubricating the inside of my elbows.

I realized I had just witnessed the entire food chain of Sauvie Island in less than a mile. The frogs were afraid of the snake which was afraid of the hawk which was afraid of me. I was just afraid I’d need a spatula to peel my pants away from my body later.food_chainThe wooden duck blind at Virginia Lake revealed zero ducks and just as much water. 2015 was an effin’ hot summer, it dried everything up. The only moisture now on the island was coming out of the clouds. And my palms.I sat on a little bridge spanning an empty creek and hoped the slight breeze would dry a few things out, like everything I owned. The dew point was so high, the glass on my binoculars fogged up. If a sudden cloudburst drenched me to my core at this very moment I’m not sure I would have noticed.Wapato3 10-29-15

I made it back to the truck with a lot of shuffling and whining, guzzled down every last ounce of water I had with me, and drove straight home to the relief of a steaming shower and a small glass of port. Okay, a large glass of port.

October 29, 2015


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