In the heat of the day, we found relief standing in shallow water. Seven of us remained after a tour of the farm and the forested edge of the McKenzie River. Parent conversation roamed across trade-offs between herbicide use and the spread of invasive weeds, climate change and personal change, how to be a good father, how to be a good neighbor. Meanwhile the kids swished scoop nets in the ponded side channel, wowing over tadpoles, boatmen, mosquito fish and dragonfly larva. The air continued to warm, and with it the number of adult dragonflies zig-zagging around us increased as well.
Take me to the river. Wash me in the water. Summer has arrived early this year, and the refuge offered by the McKenzie, the Willamette, the Long Tom and our other local rivers drive Al Green’s song to seasonal popularity, at least in our minds or as we hum. Rivers provide respite — from the heat, from unrequited love, from a world filled with noise and complexity.
Following our little explorers, we crossed a small gravel bar, stepping into a smaller pond immediately downstream. Almost shocking, the water felt 10 degrees cooler. Welcome to the “hyporheic zone,” where flowing surface and groundwater mix and cool within gravels below ground, following paths left behind by earlier meanders of the river. Salmon and trout depend on these cold-water refuges, especially as our rivers heat up. Standing calf-deep in such a spot, you can’t help but imagine a school of fish sighing in relief when they find them.
Years of damming, straightening and redirecting our rivers have made these side channels all the more rare, even as warming waters make them all the more important. Conservation science is helping us rectify this, guiding our efforts to restore natural connections between the river and its floodplain. The historic perspective and local knowledge of farmers is helping us better understand the changes that have occurred. Creative artists and musicians deepen our connections to nature and each other. And the unfettered imaginations of children remind us to follow our noses, to explore, play and whoop with joy when we catch a dragonfly or splash in cold water.
This Saturday, June 27, the McKenzie River Trust invites you to do all of that — learn about rivers, see restoration projects, explore, swap stories, play, celebrate — at Green Island, where the McKenzie and Willamette rivers come together west of Coburg. From 7 am to 5 pm we’re hosting our seventh Living River Celebration, a free event filled with guided natural history tours, music and fun. Come join us and share your thoughts about rivers, about climate, about being good neighbors and good parents. Cleanse your soul; put your feet on the ground and in the water. Channel Al Green. Take me to the river. — Joe Moll