Wednesday, December 20, 2006

La Tourelle

Six years ago this morning I perched my backpacking stove on the tailgate and cooked up some oatmeal, brewed a pot of tea, and popped open a bottle of bourbon at the base of La Tourelle Falls in the Columbia River Gorge (link is to photos similar to the non-digital ones sitting in my album, although these are not mine; look at them; they're lovely). Spitting rain turned into snow and back again, sending wisps and mist along the spruce boughs to settle on the ferns underfoot. The falls themselves were slender and tall, cascading more than 100 feet down a sheer cliff covered with impossibly bright yellow lichens.

I have never been in a place so green. Moss covers the rocks, the bridges, hangs down in long dreadlocks from the trees. Water runs everywhere. The hollows are filled with ferns. And early on a midwinter's morning the only sounds are the water falling over stone and the half-snow bouncing off the branches. Seriously, I would have been less surprised if a hobbit or elf had shown up than I was when none did.

From La Tourelle I motored along the road to a vista point next to a stone house stuck out on a cliff over the gorge. The wind picked up and the truck rocked pretty significantly as the other side of the river got swallowed up by a full-on snow. I had the place to myself as I picked my way back down to Multnomah Falls, the showpiece of the historic river highway. This one's the second-highest falls in the contiguous states, if I recall, with two drops into pools. The CCC architecture was almost as enjoyable as the natural scenery, the graceful stone arches of the bridges being slowly reclaimed into the landscape by the ever-present moss.

I made that trip to meet up with someone who, as it turned out, was playing me like a cheap guitar. These years later I still think it was worth it just for that breakfast in the Columbia River Gorge, sipping bourbon in a beautiful place I'd never seen before, alone but warm as the snow fell and the waters rushed on.

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