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.