It is the life of a crystal, the architect of the flake, the fire of the frost, the soul of the sunbeam. This crisp winter air is full of it. —John Burroughs (1837-1921) Winter Sunshine
The last week of December 2017, brought the first cold snap of the season with strong East Winds, mountain snow, and freezing rain that turned urban streets into sheets of ice, and brought us a White Christmas; a rare occurrence west of the Cascades. It was over the Christmas holiday that we had to commute from the mountains to the city to pick up my dad for Christmas; a drive that normally takes two hours round-trip, took six hours on sheets of ice. The drive was a harrowing experience one we hoped to never repeat. It’s a miracle we didn’t become a fender-bender statistic, and there were many, including rollover crashes, and cars in ditches.
The East Wind continued through New Year’s Eve, but on New Year’s Day, something amazing happened the East Wind held its breath. The sky turned robins egg blue, and the temperature hit 41 degrees. After temperatures in the twenties, and wind chills in the teens, it felt like spring! It’s not often we get such fine weather in January. Last New Year, a storm dumped more than a foot of snow, so this was a day to be savored, and so to the river we went.
River walks have become a New Year’s tradition for us. So on the first day of 2018, we walked the Sandy River at Dodge Park. This was a twofer, because it is also where Bull Run River joins the Sandy. What better place to spend the first day of a new year with the one you love, in the company of two, wild, and scenic rivers. I’ve always loved this wild place deep in the canyon; a place I’ve been coming to since my childhood. I must add though that I am disappointed that half of this small wild space has been turned into a campground. This won’t stop us from visiting, but it won’t be the same.
Along the riverbank anglers, with their new Christmas rods, casted their lines for winter steelhead. Among them, a father was teaching his young son how to fish. Of the half-dozen, only two were fly fishing—“a dying breed,” said the one holding the latest Spey rod. The fishing wasn’t great. We heard of only one steelhead caught earlier that morning. The river was slightly murky, and running fast, and full because of heavy rain, and melting snow from a few weeks earlier. The Sandy River, notorious for flooding, flooded, but only slightly. High water cut into the riverbank exposing tree roots, and arranged new boulder gardens that will be rearranged come the next flood.
Downriver we sidestepped a large cottonwood that toppled during the East Winds. As we exited a tangle of alder, a kayaker in a blue kayak, wearing a red helmet, launched into the river riding the bucking waves, and bobbing like a merganser. Downriver from where Bull Run enters the Sandy, the kayaker entered The Pipeline, and then vanished beyond the whitewater.
As the rivers thundered past, I looked for my favorite river bird—the American dipper. But, the rivers were too high, and too fast flooding the pools, and concealing the boulders where the dipper typically hunts. Most likely, the dipper was in the woodsy floodplain, searching the gentler backwater for snails, and aquatic larvae. Though we didn’t see or hear the dipper, our traditional river visit was a good one. As for my favorite river bird, I will see him in the spring.
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