Umpqua’s Rocky Bank

Aerial view of Umpqua River in central Oregon. © Claudia Strijek

I sat on a high spot on the rocky bank, my back to the cool breeze, and waiting for the sun to break through the clumps of silver clouds. After weeks of walking challenging terrain while conducting bird surveys, I was content to simply sit. The river flowed wide, swiftly and noisily, as the water hit in-stream boulders. The din, however, did not overpower the cries of spotted sandpipers searching for food as they scurried along the bank’s edge and along potholes. I looked cross-river to take in the contrasting lime-green big leaf maples and alders with the forest green Douglas firs – all of them almost met the water’s edge. This was excellent habitat for a variety of birds, mammals and the tallest firs provided lookout posts for bald eagles and osprey in search of their next meal.

Upstream on the distance hills, ran a clean-cut swath of pale green through the middle of the forest that looked like a recently shaved tan face. Managed timberland. A closer look with my binoculars revealed three stages of growth and harvest lines. I looked away thinking how unnatural those straight lines looked and tried not to pass judgment on those timber bosses. (For all I knew the last piece of paper I used came from those trees.)

As I continued to glass my surrounding, a figure popped out of the woods where the trail was. I watched this older man make his way to the water’s edge. A wide brimmed hat with a drawstring topped his head and shaded his grey and white bearded face. Black suspenders held his baggy pants up and his potbelly filled his midriff like a small beach ball. His gate was sure and stead, despite his age. Once he reached the river he gazed intently into the water with dark sunglasses — clearly a fisherman searching for fish. As he came closer to me I read a patch on his shirt that read “Project Healing Waters.” I was familiar with the program that helps war vets with trauma through fly-fishing outings. We chatted a bit about his role in the organization, the condition of the river and general health benefits of fly-fishing. A brief silence fell between us as if to confirm the river’s power to heal. Then as he turned to take leave he said, more to himself than me I suspect, “Yup, might have to come back here tonight and do some fishing.” “Good luck,” I replied as my eye caught sight of a soaring osprey overhead. I hoped both would be having fish for dinner that evening.




6 thoughts on “Umpqua’s Rocky Bank”

    1. It is my intent to illustrate through my writing just how easy this healing power can be acquired. No need to spend thousands of dollars, travel halfway around the world, be an expert outdoors person – just sit by a river and see what happens!

  1. This writing does show how easy it can be to get to a different place just by stopping, sitting, listening and watching. Beautiful!

  2. I really enjoyed this short story. It is like a lead-in to a bigger story. Who was this man? What was his past and personal struggles? Did he come back to fish and find solace? What further experience did you encounter? I like the way your story makes you wonder. Everyone has a story. Plus I can always clearly picture the landscape in your descriptions! Good stuff!

    1. Yes, everyone has a story. You are the first to suggest this could be perhaps a short story/novella. I do think several of my pieces have such potential. It will be my next endeavor after my photo book is completed.

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