It was sunny all day, forcefully sunny. It played tricks on my brain. I actually thought taking Washington’s Highway 14 at dawn would be a delightful and scenic change of pace. Turns out, when you take that curvy road at sunset, you see quaint old farmhouses peeking out of deep green shadows, but in the full glare of day, those properties expose their secrets like Brittany Spears getting out of a cab. I passed sullen rural hoarders wedged into dirty plastic lawn chairs, surrounded by broken, rotting crap in the blast pattern of an air-to-surface missile. Half of them were sucking alternately on Miller Lites and Marlboro Reds at 6 o’clock in the morning and yelling at random dogs. The looks they were giving passersby…Well, just insert banjo music here.
They were my first ever Columbia River pinnipeds so I decided to celebrate at a coffee shop with my new invention, the Chocolate-Covered Espresso Bean. You order a small hot cocoa with extra chocolate and then dump a shot of espresso into it. Cheaper than mocha and twice as strong. Try it, you’ll hear colors.
Zipping around a curve, high on happiness in a disposable cup, I had a National Geographic moment: a massive Golden Eagle feasting on a carcass. Dude was the size of a Border Collie. I pulled a quick u-ey with one hand and tried to remove a trembling camera from its bag with the other. I put it in park about 20 yards away and kept the doors shut. No way was I exiting a metal-clad safety zone next to a raptor that could switch from dead animal to screaming human in two beats of its seven-foot wings. I am remarkably tender and delicious for a Portlander, I was marinated in Colorado.Watching a predator go to town on fresh meat live and in person is something every serious animal lover should aspire to. It really puts all those nature documentaries into perspective when you realize how much they edit out. It’s actually a slow, messy process eviscerating something in the grass without a Leatherman. Blood splatters, chunks fly–it’s not all that different from a Republican presidential debate.Three immature eagles were positioned at socially avoidant intervals in the white oaks above. I don’t know if they were getting disemboweling lessons from Uncle Harry or simply waiting their turn as competition but they chattered away in deceptively high-pitched squeaks and titters while they monitored the seating situation at Chez Carnage. Eagles may look badass but they sound like squeeze toys. Imagine if Darth Vader declared, “I am your father,” in an Alvin the Chipmunk voice.
Meet Larry, Moe, and Curly.
At the ten-minute mark, everybody had enough of my voyeurism and flew to higher trees. I got out of the truck and moved cautiously towards ground zero to perform some visual forensics on the heap of blood, muscle, and fur. Upwind, of course, and constantly sweeping the skies for any three-inch talons that might be coming for my scalp at thirty miles an hour. Looked like jackrabbit was on the menu today. I’d make a fast food joke here but I figure the post title is enough.
The thrill wore off down the road when I noticed with deep sadness how user-friendly Washington has made the parking for Coyote Wall. A miasma of bicyclists, dogs, crying children, and litter sullied a paved lot and public toilet where once stood a quiet wilderness full of butterflies and birdsong. This classic 1923 Ding Darling cartoon called “Look out! Here come the nature lovers” pretty much sums it up:Catherine Creek was packed, too, but it’s a more rustic trailhead and a longer drive away. You’d be surprised how efficiently those two factors scrape off the weekend warriors. Still, few dog owners in the milieu were able to take in the trail rules sign depicting a man walking a dog on a leash and work out that this may apply to them. From what I saw that day, the majority interpreted the line from the stick figure’s hand to his dog’s collar as symbolizing some sort of psychic connection to his pet, leaving Fido free to tear around in the undergrowth spooking wildlife, flattening flowers, and menacing other hikers and their children. You know, as nature intended. I watched a miniature Doberman something-or-other run full bore across a road while its owner screamed, “Taco! Taco, come! Taco, stay! Bad Taco!” The mutt nearly became it’s namesake when it darted in front of a farm truck. So much for psychic connection. You can’t clip a leash onto road pizza but the eagles would’ve loved it.
That was red flag enough for me. I was NOT going to take the usual route with the nattering, splattering hordes. Instead, I found a delightful out-of-the-way trail that I only had to share with Stellar’s Jays and midges, although neither one let me nap in the sun. Below is a massive panorama photo of my bliss.
For the trip home, I made the executive decision to drive another 15 miles upriver and cross over to the Oregon side at The Dalles Bridge. There’s all kinds of less roadkill over there.
January 24, 2016