Imagine for a moment that you are a newcomer to Spokane, a visitor, and you find yourself in Riverfront Park at exactly this time of year.
You hear a roar, a low rumble. You make your way toward the sound. Something large and angry seems to be shaking the earth.
You walk out on one of the pedestrian bridges, and there, in front of you, is a boiling, foaming, spray-spewing show. If you look at it through the eyes of a newcomer, you will be, more or less, flabbergasted. You are downtown in a midsize American city, just a block or two away from high-rises and you suddenly find yourself in the middle of a scene from “The River Wild.”
The river is a seething, white-water mass, smashing against basalt outcrops and careening madly over rocky lips. It’s a chaos of snowmelt, gathered from mountain range beyond mountain range, pouring through the heart of a city.
You toss a stick in it, just to see what happens. The stick doesn’t stand a chance. It’s swallowed whole by the white maelstrom. You never see it again.
And then maybe our newcomer decides to take the stroll past Spokane City Hall and the Avista power plant, down what the signs call the Falls View path. Our newcomer thought the Upper Falls were wild; but now the impact of the Lower Falls hits him – and I mean, hits him. Curtains of spray come roaring off the massive, pounding immense Lower Falls, drenching him. In terms of power, spray, noise and general tumult, the only thing he can compare it to is watching the Pacific Ocean on the Oregon coast during a titanic winter storm – or maybe on a crab boat in the Bering Sea.
Then he climbs back up the staircases, refreshingly damp from the mist, and strolls through the rest of Riverfront Park. Its charms are by no means restricted to the falls. He also sees:
•A yellow warbler singing merrily in the brush.
•A group of teens on the green, horsing around with a dog.
•The lilacs in bloom along one of the pools.
•A cottonwood tree’s trunk, gnawed straight through by a beaver, its crown now sweeping the water.
• A marmot, lying flat on a rock, absorbing every last bit of solar heat.
• Several dozen downtown workers, all huffing and puffing through their lunchtime jog.
And then, that evening, the visitor gets in his rental car and heads downstream a few miles to another park he has heard about, Riverside State Park. The Spokane River is slightly more domesticated here, but he can’t believe how much it looks like a beautiful mountain stream, all boulders and ponderosa pines and beaver-gnawed willows.
Our newcomer, having already decided to move to Spokane, makes a wish on the way back to his motel. He wishes that, in 20 years, he’s still here, still happy in his decision, and still able to appreciate what made him fall in love with the city in the first place: that roaring, remarkable river.
That newcomer was me, exactly 20 years ago Friday. Today I can say with assurance: That wish came true.