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Voices of Spencer Creek

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: River Rafting

By Lois Barton

Posted on Jul 28, 2002

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River Magic

Adrift on the limpid sparkling surface,
awed by the volume and power of this river,
I reflect on the remarkable natural process this stream illustrates.
In its simplest form, as R. L. Stevenson stated,
"Little drops of water, Little grains of sand
make a mighty river and a pleasant land."

Rainfall in the mountains initiates this
and every other mighty river the world around.
A gradual peculation of fallen rain through moss and roots
starts the rivulets trickling down folds of high country.
Springs welling up from underground water tables add to the flow.
Presently there is a tumbling creek which joins another from the neighboring valley.
And so it builds.

What feels so remarkable to me about the McKenzie River
is that in such a short distance of miles from the mountains
I can float along a full grown river bearing hundreds of gallons of water
still running through foothills before it even reaches prairie country
and rolls on to the "mighty ocean."
What a cosmic pattern!

On September 7, 2001, Edie, Steve and I floated the McKenzie River from Finn Rock to Ben and Kay Dorris landing, a great way to spend a sunny stretch of time.

We were adrift on the limpid sparkling surface of a clear flowing river. Sunlight over all. Thistle seedlings wafted upstream by a gentle breeze. Sometimes one would touch the water and roll like a wheel. Sometimes lifting off to float again above the surface and, now and then, encountering a crested riffle that swamps the feathery traveler into a watery grave. The rocky bottom of the stream seemingly glided along beneath the raft, enhancing the sense of motion as vegetation along the bank slipped quietly past. An Osprey nest atop a dead snag, and the bird cruising updraft air currents nearby. Clusters of little brown ducks working the water near the shoreline and then flying past to a newly chosen pool. Bright blue belted kingfisher flying across the river to trees on the other side. The roar of rapids ahead as our boatman positioned the raft to head into the tongue of the dancing flow. Moments of breathless bouncing up and down through the riffle. Occasional brief splashes of cold water over the occupants of the boat. Then back to still water and resumed dreaming.
Elder Hostel group on the Deschutes River, 1996. Photo by Lois Barton.
Human encounters with other rafts working their way downstream or persons on the bank or in a drift boat casting line and bait to tempt a fish, such were the elements of that delightful float.

At 83, what was the significance of all this for me? I gave the thrill of the front seat to Edie who had never river rafted before. I sat in the back seat, not able to hear most of the conversation. I looked at the water, the rocks, the trees and bushes. Sometimes I half-turned on the hard board to be a little more part of the circle. Now and then Steve and I leaned backs together as he sat in front of me using the oars. After 2-3 hours my sitting bones on the board began to feel sore from the bouncing. I watched, fascinated, as we narrowly passed submerged or barely visible rocks, sometimes wondering if Steve would be able to avoid them in time.

I have fresh in my mind the lovely images from that day. I can still see the riffles, white water, gliding down runs, great troughs between the crests into which we dropped then shot up and over. The sound of the water as it went over the rapids. The occasional bird call. I saw a fish jump. I'm sure this outing fed my spirit in ways I cannot fully appreciate at once.

This was not the first drift boat experience for me. My friend Mary and I joined an August Elder Hostel a few years ago to drift the Deschutes River from Warm Springs to Maupin.There were about twenty of us, plus the catering raft loaded with gourmet meals and our individual packs of tents and clothing. We were four days covering that distance. Each day included rest stops with snacks, outhouse facilities, and exploring various curiosities. One day we hiked a short distance on an old railroad track to a tunnel through the hillside that came down to water's edge.
Elder Hostel group on the Deschutes River, 1996. Photo by Lois Barton.
There we admired the one-hundred year old rock work of Chinese laborers who dug the tunnel and faced it by hand. One night as we reached the camping spot a heavy downpour soaked us all to the skin before our gear could be unloaded from the raft, Our guides soon had the cooking fire going, built a cover to deflect the rain by using oars and a large tarp. We hostelers warmed ourselves in a circle dancing under the shelter while we waited for hot drinks to chase the chill. Dessert that night was fresh strawberries dipped in hot chocolate. A memorable part of the trip was swimming in the warm springs pool at the Indian Reservation where we started. We learned to recognize rapids by number as to their severity, and observed the proper technique for entering them safely down the "tongue." We were told, for example, that we were entering a number three rapid in a particular case.

Another memorable raft trip was on the McKenzie which is closer to home for us. Visiting family from Ohio went with us in three rafts piloted by experienced oarsmen. A river guide made sure we all had life jackets properly installed, explained how to use them if we should fall overboard, and generally cautioned these Easterners before we embarked. There were three youngsters under ten, and their mother who was hesitant to risk their lives in what seemed to them a dangerous undertaking. Two girls, aged 8 and 10 sat in the prow of one raft, facing the excitement of rapids. The Martin rapid was the biggest of those run that day, and when we had safely gone through, complete with breathtaking splashes of cold water, and the sharp dip and rise of the course, those girls exclaimed,"Oh! Can we do that again?" The men had fly casting equipment and were having such good luck that they chose to continue the float for another hour downstream, and came home with 19 trout for our breakfast the next morning.

Still another time my kid brother from Florida and his wife, who was afraid of water they said, went drifting with our son Bill at the oars. Warren is an avid fisherman. Bill brought fly casting equipment, and those two kept pulling in more trout. I even caught three myself, which I allowed the boys to unhook for me. We had a picnic along and stopped after a couple of hours to bask on the bank and fill our tummies. Even Esther survived the rapids with good grace and seemed to have enjoyed the run.

The point of these stories is to extol river rafting as a marvelous way to find recreation in the Northwest, as elsewhere in the country, of course.

Writer and historian
Lois Barton

Lois Barton is an 83 year old mother of eight children. She has lived on the same rural acreage just south of Eugene, Oregon for more than 50 years. All their children learned to milk, to keep the woodboxes filled, to do their share of household andgarden chores. Her first book, Spencer Butte Pioneers, was published in 1982 when her youngest started to school. Since then she wrote five other books: Daughter of the Soil, now out of print; One Woman's West; A Quaker Promise Kept; and Through My Window, autobiographical sketches, sequel to Daughter Of the Soil. Through the years Lois has been a 4H leader, president of the neighborhood association, a precinct committee woman, election board clerk, editor of the Lane County Historian, and a life long Quaker. She spent a month in Southeast Asia in 1974 as a member of a church peace mission, after working for ten years as director of the Eugene Chapter of the World Without War Council.

See more of Lois Barton's Articles in West By Northwest
Sauerkraut and All That

Charlotte's Overdose - Just who is Charlotte and what did she take?

The Midwife - The midnight call awoke an unusual midwife.

The Mystery of Fox Hollow - Fact and fiction meet in this story of the origins of Faith Rock.

Trees, Tame Trees and Squirrel.

Books by Lois Barton

History and stories of the peoples of the Northwest.

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