River’s Up!

Finally, we got some rain and snow here, some sleet and freezing rain and rain, rain, and rain – starting around the first part of February.  Usually our rains begin in late October, so we have had plenty of catching up to do.  Snow up on Timberline is over 80 inches brand new as of this past week; not sure of the total snow pack now.  It’s still a little low, but better. What a relief!  Snow melt is starting to show up in my little reach, the Missing Link.

Today when Eric and I strolled down to take a look, we saw a whole tree floating by in a big hurry, on its way north.  Boaters are scarce; it’s a little dangerous out there.  Ducks and geese and even some sea gulls were living it up.

We had a power outage during the high winds that visited and 440,000 gallons of raw sewage went into the river when the back up generator for the nearby treatment plant malfunctioned.  Ouch.  In West Virginia near their capitol city of Charleston, 300,000 people have been without clean drinking water for well over a month since a coal slurry pond ruptured and flowed into the Elk River.  I simply cannot imagine that – not only the impact on all their people, schools and senior centers and homes without water to bathe and drink and clean, but all the wildlife as well.   Youngsters are ferrying in drinking water over mountain passes all the way from Kentucky!  A brigade of compassion.  But what of the deer and what of the beaver? What of their fish?

Our precious rivers, our holy rivers.

End of January, the river was about at low summer depth.  Scary.

End of January, the river was about at low summer depth. Scary.

Snow during the second week of February.

Snow during the second week of February.

Up to the lip, and muddy.

Up to the lip, and muddy.  Feb. 20.

Posted in Climate Change, Community, The river, Wildlife, Writing life | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

The Missing Link

The entire Willamette River basin is huge: 11,478 square miles and 13 major tributaries that sing their names in my heart: Long Tom, Calapooia, McKenzie, Luckiamute, Santiam, Yamhill, Tualatin, Clackamas… They slide like water over the tongue of my mind and I imagine the forests, osprey diving, the scent of fir and moss and squishy mud.  My neighbor, this long being, is the 13th largest river in the U.S. based on water flow.


Around the basin considerable restoration work is underway, especially to the south and in the wilderness areas and agriculture lands upstream, people busy putting out the welcome mat to the salmon, and their cousins the Steelhead, the small fry and the old ones too.

Then comes the roar and the pounding of the huge waterfall in Oregon City, the 2nd largest in the US based on water flow.  Salmon are challenged coming and going there.

My little reach is a 14 mile stretch of river that lies between the Oregon City waterfalls and the Sellwood Bridge at the southernmost edge of Portland, called “The Missing Link”.

I like that.  It has a name!  The Missing Link.  What’s missing are the complex sandy beaches and deep waters where migrating salmon can rest heading downstream: too many private yards stripped of natural habitat, too many golf courses, not enough large trees to offer shade, huge basalt outcropping.

North of us comes the saddest part of the river, the Superfund site: pollution pollution pollution pollution.  The poor salmon have to make a dash for it, on their way to the Columbia and the ocean, with it’s imperative, seductive call.

So the Missing Link becomes important.  People show up in my neighborhood from a wide variety of agencies, telling us about this while we drink wine at a neighbor’s home, the river dark and silent beyond their windows.  Lots of people.  People coming out of the woodwork to hear about our beloved river, and what we can do here, at the Missing Link, to help restore her to health.

We hear about 39 endangered species, including the sea lions that we hear and see from time to time.  We hear about the stress of noise on our fish.  We hear about how the Willamette is what’s called “an integrator”, taking everything from upstream and making it One.  We hear how there are anchor habitats here and there in the whole basin, and how we can build long connections, long communities, along this long being, linking them together.  Into one.

We are the Missing Link in more ways than we can know.  But we’re learning.

Posted in Community, Healing the Willamette, Nature, Superfund Site, The river, Writing life | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

A River of Pain

Compassion is a river of youth that will never run dry.” – Drukchen Rimpoche of Ladakh

No pilgrimage.  No Waldo Lake.  No healing prayers for our beloved river.  Instead, I fell on September 8th in a neighbor’s driveway, and broke my right wrist in four places, a grotesque sight.  Ambulance, ER for 8 hours or so, pain and a week later, a brutal surgery to repair the breaks.  My surgeon is a lovely woman, highly skilled, and tender; but the surgery, O my God.  I entered a river of pain that didn’t shift for weeks on end.  Of course I reached for drugs, I had to.  But the pain – I was swimming in it.

I learned more about pain.   If I followed my breath, in, connect to the pain, become aware, then out, let it go, in, connect to the pain, become aware, then out, let it go… if I could do that, one breath at a time, I could sometimes manage the pain.  Keeping mindfulness in the chaos and wash of such pain, I discovered little tiny stepping stones of comfort.  In this moment, I am okay.  Then the river of pain.  Then another moment where I was okay.  Then the river of pain.  Another moment.  If I lost mindfulness, I drowned in the pain.  On and on we went, stumbling through to finally now, no pain.  I can open jars, mostly.  I can type, and write by hand.  I can dress myself and take a bath.  I can eat food without being ill: I lost 10 pounds in 3 months.

Friends and neighbors, and my husband Eric, took exquisite, compassionate care of me.  Their compassion held me intact when the waves of pain were too much. Our dogs stayed close, and watched over me quietly.  Weeks flowed by in a blur.  Others cleaned and cooked and folded laundry and I learned how to be gracefully dependent.  Sort of.

Walking down to the river around Christmas,  I’m surprised to see how low the water level is.  It’s lower than late summer.  No rain.  No snow in the mountains.  DSC00280

Tonight, the healing sound of rain.  Blessed rain.  What is it that old country song used to sing?  God and the rain will bring it back!  And so, we begin again in the New Year.

For those of you who sent prayers and songs and poems for our river, I have saved them all; we’ll plan another trip this year, in 2014, probably in September.

Posted in Centering Prayer, Community, Healing, Healing the Willamette, Tibetan Buddhism, Waldo Lake | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Call for River Healing Prayers and Poems

Waldo Lake, the source.  My heart is aligning with the source of the source of the source!

Meanwhile, here at home, divers pulled six cars from the river down at the Oak Grove Boulevard boat launch, about a month ago.  Six cars, just dumped into the river.  Out of sight, out of mind.  What are people thinking!   Probably not thinking.  That’s just one boat launch, out of the entire outstretched watershed.

Meanwhile, I have one eye on a fearless group of Native Americans who have walked the length of the Mississippi River, offering healing prayers every step of the way.  They inspire me, with their campfires and circle dances and songs to their sacred river, their river who is in trouble, too.  They started in the snow and now it is the end of summer.

So, I have a tiny vial of holy water from Lourdes, I shall bring that with me, and offer it to the Willamette, who is also hurting in her own way.  I have a teaspoon of colored sand from the Kalachakra Peace Mandala created by Tibetan monks here in Portland a decade or so ago when the Dalai Lama visited us.  After they finished it, grain by grain, they smooshed it all up into a pile, gave tiny bags to people who were lucky enough to be at the downtown library at the time.  The remainder they carried in procession with drums and gongs down to the Willamette, where, they said, all the prayers would go into the ocean, and encircle the earth.  I’m for that.  So, I’ll add my little teaspoon to my offering to Waldo Lake.

AND I INVITE YOU ALL to send me prayers and poems and simple wishes for Eric and I to offer to the lake, as we walk and pray and gawk and stumble in awe and cry and pray some more.  If you would like to be a part of this healing ceremony, however humble, please send them to me either here, or via my email at sbshawn44@gmail.com.

Our river needs our prayers.

What I wonder is: will I know, back home, when the water with the prayers goes sliding by our local park.  Will they wave to me as they go by, on their way to the Columbia, to the ocean, to encircle the earth?  Maybe so.


Posted in Catholicism, Centering Prayer, Community, Healing the Willamette, Mysticism, The river, the source, Tibetan Buddhism | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Scared or Sacred

Scared.  Or Sacred.  Only one letter switched around makes the difference.

I get scared often.  I am scared of strangers, scared of crowds, scared of guns, scared of the plight of our planet, scared of pythons, scared of people who let their dogs off leash and my dog who is part chow is then at risk, scared of drones, scared of public agencies without compassion – the list is endless.  Boring, and endless.  It just goes on and on.

And on.  And on.  You just could not believe all the shit that scares me.  When I’m not terrified, I actually think it’s pretty funny.

Sacred.  I believe, in my better moments, that everything is sacred in some mysterious way.  When I am scared, all I have to do is to remember the sacred.  And it shifts the fear.

My father used to say that believing in God was a crutch, that somehow it meant giving up one’s critical thinking, or rationality, or even one’s independence perhaps.  For me, all that stays the same.  The plight of our planet, our people who live in poverty and terror, people who have their property blown up in W Va, or fracked in PA…. all that stays the same.  Elephants still get slaughtered.  But to somehow see through all of that to the sacred that lies beyond, to see the intricate interdependence of all matter, though all time and all space, to see into the heart of God… or even better, to feel the heart of God, to touch that pure source of Love… and let it touch me….

It’s transformative.  And that word just doesn’t come fucking close!  It’s a mystic thing, what can I say.

So, because I have unilaterally declared the Willamette River to be Holy, Eric and I plan a trip to the source of the river, to Waldo Lake and the streams that feed her, sometime early this Fall.  A symbolic pilgrimage to the Source.

I’ll report back.


Posted in Climate Change, Healing, Mysticism, Spirituality, Writing life | Tagged , | 1 Comment

For a fiercer life

We can make our minds so like still water that beings gather about us that they may see, it may be, their own images, and so live for a moment with a clearer, perhaps even with a fiercer life, because of our quiet.”   – William Butler Yeats, via Fr. Michael Doyle from Camden, N.J.

This time of summer, the river is anything but quiet.  Yesterday I trotted down there with Tara, my younger dog, to watch: people swimming, being towed in inner tubes screaming behind power boats, a mob yelling at the top of their lungs aboard a jet boat from Portland.  They turn around just upriver from us, before the tricky currents from the big waterfall at Oregon City and the junction with the Clackamas River, a huge watershed in its own right.

Did you know the Oregon City waterfall is the second biggest waterfall in the US, in terms of water quantity going over the falls? I had no idea!  But then, I lived here for over 30 years and didn’t know that the Willamette was a tidal river, either.

A young couple came down river upright on those new boards that look like people are walking on water, calling out with both fear and delight as they were broad sided by enthusiastic waves from a motor boat towing a strong young man water skiing, jumping those waves, so proud of his youth and daring do.  So proud.  I could tell from the bank, how he looked to see who was watching.  Ah, youth…

So much for still water or a still mind, for that matter.  My mind is going every which way these days, aflutter with world affairs, family events, trying to regain my own health, an incessant chatter like our local squirrels, who, it turns out, aren’t even native, but yet another invasive species.  So are we, I think.  So are we.

One thing I really loved, learning the Centering Prayer from Fr. Thomas Keating:  when you find yourself busy in your mind, just sit back, internally, along the river in your heart, and start over again, saying the word that you choose that brings it all into one point.  And guess what?!  You have a billion tries.  So just start again.

I can do that.  I can start over again.  Again.  For a fiercer life.

Posted in Catholicism, Centering Prayer, Meditation, Michael Doyle, The river, William Butler Yeats, Writing life | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Being Earnest

A new friend of mine hushed her husband who was teasing me about something, “George, now.  Susan is earnest!” she chided.  And I considered, inside, “What in the world does that mean?  Really.”  So, I meandered home and looked it up in my huge and very beloved  Webster’s.  It’s from the Old English, meaning ‘to rise’.  A serious and intent mental state.  Grave and intense attention, or purpose, versus flippant, trivial.  Yes, that fits.  And then this:  To rise, from the Latin, meaning a brook or a stream.  Well, alright then!

Meanwhile, Michael Doyle, my friend the priest from Camden, New Jersey, writes of Teilhard de Chardin, the great Catholic philosopher who “linked science, that is always on a road not yet traveled, with a new theology not yet known.”  And he quotes Pope Benedict, not my favorite person, as saying “This is also the great vision of Teilhard de Chardin: in the end, we shall achieve a true cosmic liturgy, where the cosmos becomes a living host.”   In other words, the whole bloody universe is holy.  Yup.  We know that.

But it’s nice to have it confirmed by such lofty souls.

Wait, there’s more.  This quote is from Barry Lopez, who sits beside the McKenzie River daily, going on 30 years or so.  The McKenzie River, a major tributary of the Willamette River, is upstream from here, outside of Eugene.  Nice to know we’re not alone.

“The question of how to behave, it seems to me, is nervewracking to contemplate because it is related to two areas of particular discomfort for naturalists.  One is how to keep the issue of spirituality free of religious commentary; the other is how to manage emotional grief and moral indignation so closely tied to science, with it’s historical claim to objectivity…..  It is, more deeply, an expression of the desire that love be on an equal footing with power when it comes to social change.”   See http://www.dailygood.org/more.php?n=5151 for the complete essay.  

And that, in the end, it is love that is the answer.  Always.


Posted in Barry Lopez, Catholicism, Healing the Willamette, Michael Doyle, Nature, Spirituality, The river, Theilhard to Chardin, Writing life | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Wild Life


Walking down to pick up our mail last week, a loose dog trotted towards me alongside the road.   About the size of a German Shepherd, tan and sleek, he didn’t skip a step, not a bit shy.  Surprised, since we don’t tend to have loose dogs around here, I looked closer – into the yellow eyes of a very happy coyote.  Yowzers.  Worried about my old dog, I sauntered home, the coyote disappearing like smoke on a misty day.

I mentioned my sighting on a Facebook page for my neighborhood, and someone wondered if I was trying to alarm the neighborhood – where was my proof?  Next time get a photo!  Except my posting was meant as celebration of our wild life here among us.

Today my younger dog and I walked in a park which is located on one of our feeder creeks that flow into the Willamette, a little further south from here, and listened to the music of the water over a beaver dam as we stood on a little bridge together.

And so many Canadian geese, like this one standing sentinel at the entrance to the park.  They keep up a running commentary along with the ducks nearby, a daily vibrant conference call heard by anyone in the vicinity.   Sometimes their calls sound like women howling with grief.

Sea lions bark from time to time, heading up to the falls in Oregon City, or coming back from their salmon snacking.  Quite a sight.

A good friend on mine lives along the river north of here, and tells me that they have seen cougar.  Others tell of a deer and her fawn, last year, up on the bluff, on a road at dusk.  Herons flying overhead sometimes land in our hemlock trees, along with our resident squirrels and countless birds of all sorts, especially throughout the winter.  Hummingbirds, native bees, garter snakes, bunny rabbits…. we are a thriving community.

Read recently that two countries have passed laws giving legal rights to wild life and to nature, in effect giving them lawyers for protection.  One might be Ecuador, but I can’t remember for sure.  What a great idea!

Just read Finding Beauty in a Broken World, by Terry Tempest Williams.  She connects the ecocide or genocide of the prairie dogs (varmits) who live in Utah and Colorado with the genocide in Rawanda ten years or so ago.  One million Tutsis were slaughtered in 100 days.  The survivors tell of their river running red, thousands of bodies creating dams that caused flooding into homes, compounding the horrors.  I try to imagine the Willamette running red with murdered neighbors, bodies choking the flow.  Survivors tell her that before the killing, authorities with loud speakers stirred up the younger men with speeches filled with hatred, calling the Tutsies “varmits”,  and she compares that to the hate radio now in the US, filling the airwaves and TV, owned by only a few families.

We are, in her words, a hair’s breadth away from such violence here.

The sound of the tide coming in is soothing on the river, and I stand and watch the children playing with their parents, dangling their feet in the cold water, squealing with glee.  Finding beauty in our broken world.


Posted in Community, Democracy, Genocide, Nature, The river, Tides, Writing life | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Long and Beautiful River

A friend of mine from West Virginia, an artist and teacher and prophetic leader who is following my blog here, asked me “What does the name Willamette mean?  Is it from William?”  I didn’t know, and loved the question, loved it.  And feel a little remiss, like why didn’t I ask that question?  I take so much for granted sometimes.

So, as with most things, it’s not simple.  Wikipedia says its from a Clackamas Indian Village name from around 1793.  I know that the Kalapuya tribe lived here until the early 1920s, when they were “removed” from this part of the river and relocated somewhere else, by white settlers.  Gulp.  For them, the word Wallamet means Spillwater, referring to the Willamette Falls in Oregon City.  Or so this particular story goes.  Another story says that Wallamet means “The long and beautiful river”, or “Rainwaters along the river”.

I pick “The Long and Beautiful River“, how about you?  Although Rain Waters Along the River is poetic and surely apt.  A tough choice.

Meanwhile, the rains are back for now, and the river is rising.  Nice ring to it: the river is rising!  Yeah!  Like Easter.  Finally.  Not really over the banks, but a decent flow going on now.  And lots of new snow in the mountains.  One of the things I love about our holy river:  it speaks to me daily about the ocean, and sings alleluia about our Cascade mountain range as well.  Who needs social media when we can commune like this!

I learned a new word about the river, by the way.  I read that the water “takes up residence” in the river through the Portland area for about 4 to 5 days.  That means that it takes about that long for the water to get from here to the Columbia River.  I’ve been wondering about that.  Taking up residence.  Residing.  Depending on water levels.  Depending on how big a hurry she is to merge into her embrace with the Columbia.

Our long and beautiful river – from Waldo Lake to the Columbia.  Such a long journey.


Posted in Catholicism, Community, Kalapuya Native tribe, Nature, Spirituality, The river, Tides | 1 Comment

River of Time

Way over in Camden, New Jersey, where 69 people were murdered in 2012, a Catholic priest named Michael Doyle presides over the Sacred Heart parish, and sends out a letter to subscribers every month that boggles the mind.  In January, 2013, he ends his letter:  “In the river of time we stand, somewhere in the stream of our story, and we pray that our past may be healed, and our future be blessed.  Amen.”

You can send an email and ask to subscribe to these eloquent stories at parish@SacredHeartCamden.org.  He is a magical Irish holy man elder and a great story teller, and holds the fragile flame of hope for countless families there and across the world.

Last year at this time, the river looked like this:


This year, not so much.  Water level is low, way down along the boulders at water’s edge.  Snow melt is still to come, so things may perk up a little.

Speaking of story tellers, I belong to a Book Club whose members are all women who live close to the Willamette River, and who watch, like me, the changes every day, and every season.  Some are in the flood plain, so they have a more up close and personal relationship with the river at times.  They all nod and smile and know that the river is tidal, daily.  “Why, yes, of course, I see that all the time!” they say.  I like knowing that there is a tribe of women loving the river in their own ways, just south of here.

The source of the Willamette River, Waldo Lake, high up in the Cascades, is now protected from all motorized vehicles of any kind.  Thanks be to the Oregon Legislature for this new law.  It is a large lake, pristine and beautiful.   The source.  The source.


John O’Donohue, another Catholic priest, too soon dead, writes in his book Four Elements: Reflections on Nature:  “…the discovery of a new source is often accompanied by the sense of a return to something ancient that was always secretly near.”

So we’re back to the river of Time.

Posted in Catholicism, Community, Healing, Healing the Willamette, John O'Donohue, Michael Doyle, Nature, The river | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment