The unmistakable scent of salt, rotting fish and green scum assails my nostrils and for a moment, instead of walking along a thin spit of land bordering the Columbia River, I’m on a harbor boardwalk. It’s the smell of the ocean – not the popular, clean smell that candle companies attempt to imitate, but the unromantic, true smell of the ocean. Death, decay, and grim mortality.
I stop walking, confused. The Columbia is freshwater, not salt. I look towards the inlet of water trapped by the spit and I see the algae and collection of detritus that unwittingly mimics the sea. The wind picks up again, tearing the scent from my senses, and I continue on.
True to its name, the spit ends at a large tangle of blackberries that deny further passage. A few sailboats play on the river, which is dotted with whitecaps. Walking back to the small dirt parking lot at the base of a cliff, I find a shady stone to sit and write.
The Gorge can be a difficult place to love if you don’t also love the wind. I marvel at how one of the area’s historically worst attributes – the relentless wind – eventually became an enormously profitable asset that practically saved Hood River. Sailing, windsurfing, kiting –
Hang on. What’s this? I’m startled as a yellow jacket lands on my laptop’s screen. Don’t panic, it’s just a bee, I tell myself. I consider how to ease it off my screen, and it flies off on its own. Good. See, we can coexist with all sorts of creatures if we –
Wait. It’s back. I can’t see it but I can hear it buzzing around my head. I gently shake my head, thankful for my ponytail to help dissuade the little fella. Go find another place, I think. I shake my head harder, hoping to be more convincing. I think about my horses’ tails, and how they are so useful for driving off annoying –
OW! THAT BASTARD STUNG MY FOREHEAD! I leap up, my sunglasses fly off the top of my head, I grab my laptop before it can crash to the ground, and run into the sun. The yellow jacket follows for a few yards, then flies off for good. I put my computer in the truck, then gingerly head back for the rest of my things, finally finding my sunglasses behind a rock.
I return to the truck and look in the mirror. My forehead is swelling. Eight years of plein air writing, at least 30 to 40 sessions of sitting outside, and I’ve never been stung by a yellow jacket. I sit in my truck and finish writing, scanning for those little yellow fuckers.
Perhaps I’ve reached my limit for plein air writing. How many different ways can I talk about the river, the wind, the mountains? Maybe I needed a tiny messenger to say, “It’s time to go, you’ve done enough.” Harumph. Message received, though I doubt I’ll heed it.