tubing on the Willamette River
Sunday, July 24 2022
location: Northeast 24th Avenue, Northeast Portland, Portland, Oregon
Last night the ever-helpful Gilly had loaned us her diesel-powered Volkswagen hatchback and today Gretchen and I would be using it to drive south down to Corvalis (an hour and a half up the Willamette River valley) to visit her brother and family at their new home there. When last we'd seen them back in April, they were still living in Fayetteville, Arkansas, but after three years of being a dean at the University of Arkansas, Gretchen's brother had had enough of the ugly red state politics he encountered there (exacerbated as it was by all the foolish covid-era culture war nonsense) and decided to take a new job at Oregon State University.
Before leaving Portland, we stopped at Ben & Esther's, a franchise vegan Jewish deli down on Alberta Street. Gretchen would be bringing lunch to Corvalis and had plans to get all sorts of things, but Ben & Esther's baked goods were fairly depleted. Most of what we'd be getting were sandwiches that Gretchen's brother's family had ordered off the online menu, though Gretchen and I would also be having some food to start our day. In my case, it was an bagel with avocado and vegan cream cheese. As for Gretchen, she would be having some matzoh ball soup and a bialy. I'd never heard of a bialy, which dismayed Gretchen, and she immediately revoked my honorary Jew card. (A bialy is like a bagel, but instead of air in the middle, it contains some sort of diced and cooked onions.) Later, though, we'd learn that neither Gretchen's nephew nor niece knew what a bialy is either, and their parents have leaped through all manner of hoops to make them about as Jewish as American children can get.
While waiting for our main lunch order to be prepared, we drank coffee and ate our breakfast in the empty covid-era outdoor dining area of an adjacent Japanese restaurant. Gretchen then played Duolingo for awhile, which is such an antisocial activity that I took a stroll up Alberta and back, marveling along the way at how expensive the Biketown bicycle share bicycles cost to ride at $0.20/minute. They come with an electric boost, but that still seems expensive.
We took I-5 to Corvalis, a stretch of highway we must've taken in the past on our drive to Eugene more than twelve years before. Along the way, I kept being struck by the oversized evergreens on either side of the road. These were probably douglas firs, and they seemed like a joke or perhaps just artificial for three reasons: 1. They resembled kids' drawings of Christmas trees. 2. They are precisely the kind of trees cellphone providers try to disguise their towers as (often in the East, where they do not blend in visually with the native trees, though telecom companies can probably rely on Americans' ignorance of nature to get away with it). 3. The trees looked to my eye to be out of scale with the landscape, reminding me of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
The Willamette Valley is highly agricultural, with large fields of crops, some of which (like grapes) I haven't seen growing in vast fields before. Occasionally we'd pass a billboard advertising a for-profit college. (Never attend a college that needs to advertise on billboards!)
Gretchen's brother's new home was in a newish development south of the urban part of Corvalis in what had probably been some river-side agricultural fields. The river in this case was the Willamette, and it was there within easy walking distance at the end of Rivergreen Avenue. When we arrived, Gretchen's brother and nephew were out on the grass in front of the house, surrounded by musical instruments (the way they prefer to socialize) and blow-up "innertubes" suitable for tubing down a river. I put that word in quotes because, unlike the tubes Deya's father used to loan Big Fun alumni to float down the James River, these hadn't been designed to go inside truck wheels. They were very much made for floating and had such things as built-in drink holders and head rests. They were also made of relatively thin-walled vinyl, not rubber. One of them was a tandem tube shaped like a figure eight and it had a built in box-shaped void suitable for a six pack or a small cooler. The plan today would be to float down the Willamette from the end of Rivergreen Avenue all the way to downtown Corvalis.
First, though, we had our lunch. The day was expected to get extremely hot (over 100 degrees Fahrenheit), and already it was getting unpleasant. But out in the side yard a sort of tarp had been hung over a table, and we could eat our sandwiches there. As Gretchen was handing them out, she realized that the one I'd ordered (featuring vegan "lox" made of carrots) was not there. Fortunately my nephew had ordered a $25 sandwich that was so thick that he would have to unhinge his jaw to take a proper bite. He gave me half of it, and even that was a bit much. It was full of vegan pastrami and God knows what. At some point Gretchen brought up my missing tooth, which my niece said she'd noticed but didn't feel comfortable asking about. So I explained the whole thing about being between teeth and the amazing bone graft technology presently at work.
To begin our tubing adventure down the Willamette, we simply walked to the edge of the development. Just beyond the pool was a strip of open landscape and then a row of trees on the riverbank. Launching tubes from this development is evidently a popular thing to do, and there were enough people doing it that we had to wait in line. Our actual launching spot was from a tributary of the Willamette, and it took some effort to fight the currents that wanted to bottle us up in that. The water was also surprisingly cold, and it took me awhile to acclimate to it. But then I relaxed on the mesh at the bottom of my tube and enjoyed the ride. We lashed all our tubes together so none of us could get separated. This also meant that all of us could benefit from the rowing efforts of those who chose to use the paddles Gretchen's brother had provided us. The paddles proved essential, because there were several places where the current seemed to block our progress downstream.
Gretchen's brothers family have a dog named Ellie who is some sort of small poodle mix that doesn't look like a proper dog (to me). The initial story was that she was a "rescue" from an Amish dog breeding operation, but that really wasn't true because she had cost money. Anyway, Ellie is not a great dog, growling at people for no reason and not even being all that cute. But she loves Gretchen's brother, and happily rode down the Willamette between his calves.
Along the way, I pointed out wildlife that I could identify. There were several large mottled birds of prey that I thought were probably immature bald eagles, there were several osprey, including one with a nest high in a towering nearly limbless tree that had died long ago. I also saw killdeer and many of some sort of smallish bird (larks?) that liked to fly back and forth over the middle of the river.
At the broad inside bend in the river, we stopped to skip stones and look for remarkable ones. Some stones had interesting colors (dark red) or surface features (numerous pits), and I collected a few that didn't end up going home with me. While we were stopped there on the beach, some of us attempted to wade out into the river to see how far we could go before the current made progress impossible. Once water was up to our waists, we could go no further.
Once we'd passed three bridges, we made a hard left to Michæl's Landing very near downtown Corvalis. It's where Gretchen's brother had pre-positioned the Subaru that we'd be taking back to his place. Since there were six of us, our niece (the smallest of us) had to sit in Gretchen's lap.
After cleaning up and taking showers, the inevitable music performance happened. Gretchen thinks her brother is such a fan of music performance because it muscles aside conversation, and conversation leads to tension. Instead, he prefers to suggest some song for the kids, which they then perform pretty much at the limit of their talent, since they've already done it many times in the past. As they were performing, I used the Google audio search feature (the thing where Google listens to actual audio and then tries to determine what song it is). Interestingly, sometimes Google figured out the song (though only with something like 10% confidence). Other times it would think the song was a totally different song. The most interesting case of this came when the kids were performing "the Story" by Brandi Carlile and Google thought it might be Bob Seeger's "Turn the Page."
When there'd been quite enough of that, the six of us rode back into downtown Corvalis (by now we'd figured out that four of us could sit in the backseat without anyone needing to sit in anyone else's lap) to dine at Evergreen Indian Restaurant. Everyone was excited to eat there because they feature south Indian dishes like dosas (which I think are overrated). But there was also a vegetable kadai on the menu, and I'd recently decided I like a good kadai very much. During the meal, there was some sort of running joke between my niece and nephew in which they kept putting on mocking shows of extreme deference. Later I would learn that their mother has recently decided that she should teach them manners, something she'd neglected to do throughout their childhoods (now essentially over!), and this might've been a reflection of that. My kadai wasn't great, but it was good enough, especially when eaten with naan. (I most prefer eating Indian food as if it is Ethiopian food and treating naan as injera.)
A snag with an osprey nest and, at the top, an osprey. I was the only one with a phone (or any camera) and this was the best shot I could get.
Gretchen and my nephew attempting to wade in the current.
The beach where we stopped for a time.
Gretchen pointing out caricatures drawn by our niece in her brother's office.
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