On the absence of power lines, a travelog from Skamania

chairs on a grass hill overlooking river and surrounding hills in a pink dusk.

People have lived along this river for ten millennia. In several indigenous languages, its name translates to ‘big river;’ in Upper Chinook, the name is Wimahl, in Sahaptin, Nch’iWana or Nchi wana, in Sinixt swah’netk’qhu. The the north bank is Skamania, which comes from the word for ‘swift waters’ in Upper Chinook.

Seven took this photo from a gorge carved years ago near the Bridge of the Gods. Ours was a spirited and wonderful visit. The waters were calm, the winds did pickup. We hiked daily.

Upon return, I notice the photographs documenting our stay at a picturesque lodge are absent of power lines. The two thousand kilometer river has been damned and drudged: homes, sacred lands, farms, petroglyphs, islands, they are under warm reservoirs now; the river is dammed 14 times and produces 44% of the US total hydroelectricity. The river was also used to run two nuclear power plants, including Hanford — the most contaminated land in the U.S.

The salmon are endangered, they cannot reach their spanning grounds. The orcas are dying.

Calls for water justice among indigenous activists have fought this, there are efforts to remove dams not far from where this picture was taken. Elsewhere dams have been removed and a Klickitat tribal leader was reported by Oregon Public Broadcasting in 2019 as saying the fish have rebounded. Change changes.

At the same time, hydropower is said to be a renewable, and cleanish, energy source — though this classification is importantly contested, as @Jennifer Lenhart, a dear friend, pointed out (read the exchange in a version of this post on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/p/CPm5NNot4Uy/). How can big dams be renewable energy when they have devastated the big river’s watersheds, pushed animals to extinction, and release methane?

Now in the city, complicated feelings and sadnesses arise in me as I use lights powered by the Columbia and remember the laughter we shared along the banks. I believe in my skin that honoring the fragility and sacredness of our sustenance is centerpiece to change. The power of this is beautifully evoked when I read poetry as long as the river, the book beholden by poets and water activists Rita Wong and Fred Wah, about the Columbia River. Listen and the river “tugs on our small spirits” (p. 119).

Image description: chairs on a grass hill overlooking river and surrounding hills in a pink dusk.

#skamanialodge #columbiarivergorge #waterjustice #renewableenergy #salmon #removedams #saveorcas #warmingrivers #columbiariverkeeper


“Columbia River: Lifeblood of the Pacific Northwest,” Columbia River Keeper. Last accessed at: https://web.archive.org/web/20120924004400/http://columbiariverkeeper.org/the-river/

Flatt, Courtney (Oct. 14, 2019) “Northwest Tribes Call For Removal Of Lower Columbia River Dams,” Oregon Public Broadcasting. Last accessed at: https://www.opb.org/news/article/pacific-northwest-tribes-remove-columbia-river-dams/

Geranios, Nicholas K. (May 27, 2021) “12 Northwest tribes say they are united to save salmon,” Oregon Public Broadcasting (Associated Press)
Last accessed at: https://www.opb.org/article/2021/05/27/twelve-northwest-tribes-say-they-are-united-to-save-salmon/

Lillis, Kevin (June 27, 2014). “The Columbia River Basin Provides More Than 40% of Total U.S. Hydroelectric Generation,” U.S. Energy Information Agency. Archived from the original on June 9, 2017.

Wikipedia editors (no date) “Columbia River,” English Wikipedia. Featured article (2017). Last accessed at: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Columbia_River&oldid=1020912611

Wong, Rita, and Fred Wah. (2018) beholden: a poem as long as the river. Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada: Talonbooks.



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