Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Green River


As if holding a green glass bottle to my eye, the world had changed. I looked out the window of my office down at the banks of the Willamette River, at the trees growing on Hard Tack Island, and could not see the far side of the river. I could not see purple mountains, some days hazier than others. Bright green, green that is triumphant, green that’s mostly blue, a little yellow, a little brown. Before there had been only brown. And gray. And early evenings. A few trees bloomed pink and white on the west shore of the river below my office, fluffy, fat, and lazy, too dense to ascend heavenward, dense like clouds painted on ceilings, fat and lazy like the Baroque cherubs who lived in those clouds.

I love looking up through a tree blooming with soft pink flowers, the branches twisting darkly behind, the sky light gray and low but somehow light.

Now though, green. Bottle green. Thick and shiny. Green that chokes, as everything just grows and grows and grows. The river is no longer gray. It no longer reflects the blue of the sky. The sudden growth on the banks around the water, on Hard Tack Island, has oxidized the surface of the water, resulting in a deep verdigris. The river seems to move slower, too. Not like a wide, deep Pacific Northwest river. These rivers here are never quite flat, the winds from the Columbia River Gorge or from farther down the Willamette River Valley push against the surface of the water so that on some days the water seems to be flowing backward, up toward the mountains, running away from the sea. Even on the most empty day, not a gust, not a bluster, the strong current below marrs the surface of the water. The river always seems most deep and dangerous those days; I wonder how I never noticed the great currents before and how much of this is posturing.

Placid but not pellucid. That’s how the Willamette looks this week. More narrow, green and brown, more Southern I think. It reminds me of the Cahaba River back in Alabama. Like everything Southern, the Cahaba is in no rush. The water thick, brown with mud, green with algae, the water lazies south toward the Gulf. We swam there in the heat, on one of those hottest days, the water not even that much cooler. Deer lapped at the bank and water moccasins waited in puddy pockets near the shores for enough provocation.
June will come and the Willamette Valley will remain resplendent. It will not wither in the Southern heat. It will not fade yellow or crisp brown. The water will remain blue for months and when we bathe in the river, the current will still be cold with snow melt.

In the morning, the leaves light up white and bright green, shimmering as wind blows north up the Willamette. A portion of the river directly below the sun is gilded, patina of white gold leaf, lighting up in a hundred tiny bursts of reflection, like bulbs on an old Vegas sign. Everything is moving - the minute constant movement of static on a television, ants covering the sidewalk. Nothing on which to rest the eye.