24 March 2014

[pdx] Hyas Tyee Tumwater (a photo essay w/a few words here and there)

Oregon City, as an incorporated town, is, for the European culture of the American west, a very old thing. Goes all the way back to 1845 as a municipal corpration, 14 years before the USA constructed what we call a "State" on the site. Lord only knows what it is we're building now, but we're doomed to find out, I'm certain.

But my phlegmatic attitude about the middle-term future aside for now, Oregon City is truly a sort of a gem. That it lost the primacy battle to Portland is obvious in that it's a subsidiary city, part of the periphery to Portland's metropole. Today, more than 150 years after its founding, it still only hefts less than 35,000 people, and in todays inflated Oregon populations, that obtains an atmosphere more appropriate to a slightly-larger Silverton or Molalla.

Viewing the geography, it's kind of obvious why the founders thought The OC would prosper a bit more wildly. It was about as far up as the boats could go, and it had a ready-made source of power.
Today, we call it Willamette Falls. Back then, it might have been called hyas tyee tumwater in a hybrid of English and Chinuk wawa: hyas tyee can take shadings of expression but essentially can be thought of as big king, and tumwater being a Chinuk-English fusion, the tum word meaning a strong, muscular sound, like that of a roaring heartbeat.

Big King of the Roaring Water.

You don't think or hear much about Willamette Falls, and that's sad. Despite its mere 40-foot height and lack of a sheer drop, and not to mention the difficulty there is in getting a good view (we keep it hidden in the graveyard of the paper industry in downtown Oregon City) it's a world-class cataract: the second largest waterfall in North America, behind Niagara, and the seventeenth largest on the planet, according to the World Waterfall Database (which puts Victoria Falls at tenth and the drowned Celilo Falls at seventh).

Living the mollycoddled life of the Portland denizen tends to make one forget how rugged and majestic Oregon really is. But that misconception is something that can be handled.

Requires a bit of a walk, however.

If one takes the Oregon City Municipal Elevator up from the lower level, the geographic relief becomes quickly apparent, as does the town's industrial history. at your feet is the shuttered Blue Heron Paper plant, which was James River before that, which was Zellerbach before that, which was Crown-Zellerbach before that.

A half-century of industrial history. Now Oregon City gets to figure out what to do with the leftovers. The young lady under the tree, however, fills diary pages and listens to music (the weather this March day being quite fine for the Portland area)>

Once off the elevator and out of the crow's nest at the top, the sojourner is presented with a rather hilly walk. Up and down, overlooking the river, downtown, and the old paper mills. If you're out of shape, you'll want to take it slowly; there are benches along the way, so those who need them can take breathers.

The park - McLoughlin Promenade, by name - fronts onto a sweet, quiet neighborhood on the upper levels, whose outward-facing houses are served by an unsigned right-of-way called Bluff Street, and backed up by the appropriately-named High Street.

Some streets are even-more appropriately named.

Near the south-end of the prom, overlooking Tumwater Drive and the VFW hall, is a rock outcropping that has photo-opportunity written all over it.

The tree makes for great framing when the foliage is gone. Of course, try as one might, one can't really get the falls without the industry. That was how the West was won, after all.

South from the falls, the river spreads out into a wide-throated titan. North, it is constricted between not only a narrow gorge but the tattered remnants of what once made Oregon City and West Linn throb with economic vitality.

A sense of power is obvious even from the pictures. The amount of mist the fall throws up is stunning. The roar of the falls can be heard from this far away … about a half-mile … even above the din of the modern world.

An enormous snag rests in the falls, giving some idea of the power that had brought it there.

Still, despite all the human strait-jacketing, the development, the horse-shoe shape of the falls is still quite beautiful, to ineptly gild the obvious, and I fancy that one is left to wonder what sort of devotion the falls would generate if people could just see it a bit easier.

This is Oregon.


Anonymous said...

It has more "drop" in summer.
In winter the water backs up a bit and fills the basin higher.
It can be viewed from the West Linn side by going to the canal locks that raise boats to the upper Willamette. I believe these are currently re-opened. They are closed when the Corps of Engineers runs out of funding, but they always open again and there are tours.

Anonymous said...

Also, FYI, Oregon City was in the early days, the state capitol. Salem literally stole the state papers! Amusing story - visit them museum above the falls to learn more.