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It is so amazingly cool that I fear people will henceforth allow distant friends and relatives to come here for a visit only during spring, so the hosts can take them down to check out the falls at full roar.
Like so many others in Spokane, in the spring I go down to pay my respects to the river. Fed by snowmelt and rain, the Spokane River swells and grows and becomes, seemingly overnight, a powerful monster roaring through the canyon it has chewed through solid basalt.
This dramatic sight draws people of all ages and the spectacle takes your breath away. Water spills over the falls, churns, boils and foams sending curtains of fine mist, droplets of water that ride the wind, coating the bridges, paths and spectators before it rushes on, making its way to fill the aquifer that quenches this thirsty land.
This year, with so much snow and rain falling so late in the season, the river is at its wildest, just under flood stage. We were there on Saturday afternoon and we walked along the path to the viewing platform at the base of the Monroe Street Bridge. That is one of my favorite places to see the falls and feel the incredible power. The land drops away at the edge of the rail, the ground vibrates and the sound makes conversation difficult. We stood for a few minutes admiring the view and taking photos before we strolled up another block to the Post Street Bridge.
From there I noticed a group of boys on bicycles ride down to the place we’d just been. Gathering at the rail, they were roughhousing as boys of that age do, pushing, punching, shadowboxing as they peered down at the water. Suddenly, one of the boys climbed up and dropped over the rail in one fluid motion, landing on the deceptively thin layer of spongy soil covering the slick rocks abutting the concrete arch of the big bridge. He moved to the edge of the steep slope that plunges down to the raging water.
My heart slammed against my ribs and I heard myself make an instinctive, involuntary, sound like a frightened animal. I was terrified he would slip at any minute. The ground was still soaked from days of rain and there was nothing to reach out and grab if he lost his footing. And the river, always dangerous, is completely unforgiving at this stage. Whatever falls into it is quickly gone forever.
I looked for my husband but he was out of sight. I raised my phone to call 911, sure that if I took my eyes off the boy he would be gone when I looked up, but at that moment one of his friends must have called him back because he turned and just as quickly hopped back to safety.
“Oh, you stupid boy.” I whispered. “You stupid, lucky, boy.”
The group stayed another few minutes—long enough for me to snap a photo—and then hopped back on their bicycles and moved on, off to swagger and impress one another in other ways, I suppose.
I finally walked away but I was still trembling.
I keep replaying the scene in my mind, thinking how one wrong step could have changed everything, but I doubt the boy has given it a second thought.
I know this is nothing new.
When my children were that age they laughed at my constant worry. They thought I was simply overprotective, but the truth is, I was unhinged. They had no idea how many dangers there were outside our door and I suppose I believed if I could think of it and warn them against it (whatever it was) I could somehow protect them. New fears would hit me in the middle of the night. What if… What if… What if…
At that age—adolescence and early adulthood—we are vulnerable because we have not yet developed an awareness of just how fragile we truly are. Age, experience, and exposure to the shocking misfortune of others gradually brings on the understanding that at any given moment any of us is fair game to tragedy. Terrible things can happen when we least expect it.
Eventually, wisdom—and with it a greater chance of survival—comes with the understanding that the reckless make themselves better targets. So most of us grow cautious, careful. Some of us become worried mothers and fathers, nagging our children to take care.
Perhaps one day, when he is a man and he’s watching a teenage son drive away, the same lucky boy will remember the day the river didn’t get him and he’ll call out, “Hey, don’t do anything stupid!”
But his boy will not look back, and the words will roll off his back like the clean, cool, spray from a waterfall.
Note: The group of boys mentioned in this column appears in the photo above.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
FISHING — The Spokane River's struggling native redband trout are in the news for more reasons that one this week.
As stream flows hit their seasonal lows in the Spokane River, Avista Utilities begins a to-do list of work on their dams and on the bed of the river. Many of the jobs are part of their 50-year relicensing agreement compiled by several stakeholder groups, including Indian tribes and environmental groups. On Wednesday surveyors and environmental consultants planned and prepared for the construction of weirs to direct river flows in a more aesthetically pleasing way.
The project included netting trout stranded in the basalt pools of the dewatered falls and releasing them safely in the river.
The effort — and a glimpse at the size of redband trout living in the Spokane Falls area — are captured in a picture story by Spokesman-Review photographer Jesse Tinsley.
The other news story this week, detailed in my column today, is the legal challenge to the docks proposed on the river by the Coyote Rock development near Plantes Ferry Park.
Yesterday, I was at a meeting with folks who do emergency preparedness in the county and as part of the meeting, we were offered a tour of the Avista dams downtown.
The last spot on the tour was an outside viewing section for the lower falls. The Spokane River is pretty high and glorious right now and though I'd seen these lower falls before from this viewpoint, I decided to make the last stop, despite the hours of work awaiting me in the office.
I climbed down the steps to the viewpoint (you can get there through the City Hall parking lot) and it's stunning, like being in a science fiction movie, water crashing right next to you.
The reason I decided to see the river like this? Last week in an interview, Margo Long, head of the Gifted Education Center at Whitworth University said this:
When I talk to young mothers, I always remind them of one of my favorite bylaws: “Do now what you cannot do later.” It usually gives us perspective and puts our focus back on the children.
I'm going to adapt Margo's words to many decisions now, because as you age, it's good to ponder the things you might not be able to do later. I'll likely be able to make the short hike down to the lower falls for many years to come, but you never know. So I went. No regrets.
- Spokane Falls
September is awesome!
Here in the Inland Northwest we are treated to mostly sunshine, relative warmth, and a bit of crispness to the air that always makes it feel fresh and clean. Of course this year we have also been lucky that a great group of people have worked so hard to organize Sustainable September Spokane. And just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, an email from our local Sierra Club chapter reminded us that there is a seemingly infinite number of opportunites to participate in the process of making Spokane and the Inland Northwest a better place to live. Check out these four opportunities after the jump