For the second straight year, Field & Stream has partnered with Trout Unlimited on tours of America’s Best Wild Places. The Best Wild Places is a joint project and offers a unique look at some of the country’s best hunting and fishing destinations, as well as the challenges these amazing places face if they are to remain intact and functional for years to come.
Since my youth wild, untamed places of solitude and beauty have occupied a special niche in my heart. I have been pleased to put footprints on many such unspoiled places from the Arctic to Mexico, but I’ll be departing soon to a place that has been prepared for me, an inheritance, perhaps a wild place. Though I have yet to cross some, as yet, unmapped future terrain; a fearsome topography known by some as the golden years. I wonder what fool coined those words. Having observed those cherished ones that have journeyed through the “golden years” they didn’t look all that golden; a difficult path in all likelihood, but paradise at the end for me. The belief I have acquired, over now what seems an insufficient time, is that I’ll arrive in the afterlife unbroken. From broken to unbroken in the blink of an eye, it stuns the imagination. But, I have always loved adventure and this could be the greatest one of all.
For now, on cold winter days I sit by the fire content to read a book or talk with the woman who has together shared all the decades of my adulthood. Of late we have achieved a transparency that the stresses, temptations and uncertainties of our earlier years interfered with. These golden years may yet yield a fine harvest. On sunny summer days I forsake the porch for a trail or a reach of river, and read the water aided with fathoms of fly line.
Long ago, when we dreamed our home into being, we oriented the side of the house comprised chiefly of glass to aim east toward the Columbia River, and the far plains of Eastern Oregon. From our hill top it was a vast, wide vista. The River, the valley, the desert extended beyond the limits of our vision.
The River, once a passageway for the Chinookan, Wascoes and Paiute people, now hosts barges that plow snow melt from five states and a Province. Wind surfers like alien insects drift across the wind driven waves. Salmon and Steelhead still travel up the lower reaches of the dam choked thing. I’ve spent the better part of my years living on the banks of it. No longer measured by flow alone, but by mega watts, bushels, and acres irrigated…added up it is a staggering sum. Equal to but different than the original. Still it is a mighty river.
Once it was a wild thing that seasonally roared and rammed its way to the blue Pacific. It carried creatures from the salty brine deep into the continent where its clean, pure water flowed across granite cobbles; the birth place of Chinook, the king of Salmon. Prehistoric Sturgeon still traveled along the river’s bed up and across the 49th Parallel long before that boundary held any meaning. The River went on and on always different and yet the same. It would have made me want to travel up its twisted shore to discover every cove and trib, to encounter the people that might greet me that dwelt on its shore, to see the landscape forged by fire and ice and decorated by the consequence of rain and drought, to traverse the mountain gash, a place of legend, that could not defeat its last unstoppable rush to the sea.
If I could walk back in time to stand on the banks of this wild, untamed, and unfettered version of the River I love, I’d do it in a New York minute, whatever in the world that is.
Perhaps the place in which my inheritance awaits me is on the far shore of that wild Columbia?
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