Fires in the Columbia Gorge: She’s still here

Native American stories infuse geologic features, mountains and waterfalls and monoliths, with stories that give almost everyone a gender. More mountains in the Pacific Northwest are women than men; more monoliths seem to be women too.

Because of this and many other things I call the Columbia Gorge by the feminine pronoun. And, despite much mourning about losing her due to the Eagle Creek/Indian Creek fire complex that wracked the gorge through most of September 2017, she’s still here. What makes her so unique can’t be destroyed, much though it seemed overwhelming four weeks ago when the fires were just beginning.


Columbia Gorge from Chanticleer Point two days after the Eagle Creek fire started

I took out a group of people last week to see the Columbia Gorge for a test run of a tour I’m planning to begin running for Cordilleran Tours. And while the old historic highway accessing the waterfalls has been closed — there is no access to Vista House, to Latourell Falls, and certainly not to Multnomah Falls — the qualities that make the Columbia Gorge beautiful still stand.

I’m working through a lot of feelings here, but most importantly we have to let go of our image of how something should be. It is one of the struggles, working as tour guides; we’re used to dealing with expectations born out of Instagram photos and the images we put on TripAdvisor profiles. We can’t always manage what the earth decides to do. We can impact, but can’t control, how anyone outside ourselves behave — least of all geographic features and climate.

burnt leaf at latourell falls

A burnt big leaf maple leaf found two days after the fire at Latourell Falls

But what we know is the essential truths beneath what could be perceived as beauty or terribleness. Worth seeing or no.

For us, it’s always worth it.

Call or message if you’d like to book a tour with me to the Gorge — 503 889 6410. I’ll be running them regularly starting in late October, but for now, it’s just friends.


Columbia Gorge from Chanticleer Point, late September 2017

Here’s something I wrote after walking the labyrinth nearby.

Sometimes there must be a time of respite, of letting the worst things flow into you and through you, the way my acupuncturist says to do with negative energy you couldn’t stop in time. You let it flow and then it comes out and that horrid thing you experienced is gone, gone but for the echoes and the inevitable headaches and the cells you’ll always carry with you.

Those cells are your beauty. Those cells are you, stealing power. Those cells set you apart.

Here is where we are when we are becoming something.


Standing in this labyrinth, in the center, a vulture flew over me. He’d come over me before, at Chanticleer Point, the most slow and close flyby I’ve ever seen. A juvenile osprey was chasing him the first time, or playing, or dancing. Here, he was alone.

A vulture is such a symbol for this moment. Life from death. Rebirth. Renewal.

You know how to read this symbol, lady love.

Written by Sarah Gilbert

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