Big-leaf Maple (Acer macrophyllum)
Chapter 12 Here the Spirit is Alive
This is where the story began : The Indian Lady at the bluff where the Big Leaf Maple Grows from a crack in the cliff overlooking Willamette Falls, Oregon City, Oregon (Chapter 1)
… and I can resume now, since I brought my camera with me this time, with my return visit with my cousin, who brought me there when we visited the place again, as described in Chapter 1
As before, we stopped at the store on High Street, in Oregon City, to buy a few things before continuing on. This store is just the same from the outside as it was when I was old enough to walk, about 68 years ago. The structure is an old quonset hut which served as living quarters for World War 2 military personnel, named Minit Mart, located at 223 High Street, Oregon City, Oregon. Both times that we visited we were met at the checkout counter by very nice people of Korean ancestry. How did I know that? My daughter is "½ Korean" ☯ and I recognized the Korean writing on the stack of free newspapers in the bottom of a rack near the checkout counter.
From there, you can simply get out of your car and walk westward about ½ block toward the bluff overlooking lower Oregon City, on the promenade, and walk along the concrete railing south (take a left turn - on foot or bike only - no cars allowed on the promenade) about a city block to the place where the Big-leaf Maple grows from a crack in the cliff overlooking Willamette Falls.
On this visit, the leaves on the trunk of the tree facing the Willamette River have turned yellow, while the foliage of the trunk facing east have remained green. The strange ferns near the base of the tree (in the foreground) have entirely dried up. Beyond the tree, to the south, where the promenade takes a sudden dip, is the VFW building; highway 99E (McLoughlin Blvd.) is visible below to the right, where a car is parked at the wayside overlooking Willamette Falls.
The promenade is lined in very distinctive masonry put there during The Great Depression of the mid 1930s, where my grandfather, who I never knew, had worked as a mason's helper, employed by the Works Progress Administration (WPA). His job was to do the heavy lifting of the quarried basalt stones while the skilled mason set them in place. Only skilled masons could set the stones; the unskilled unfortunate laborers suffered the heavy labor of lifting the stones and mixing the mortar. During that time, a man was "lucky" to have a job at all, so my grandfather worked at it until he caught pneumonia and died, leaving my grandmother to raise her 4 children herself. My father was 8 or 9 years old at the time, when his father left for the Spirit World.
Looking at the tree, I wonder how it could look exactly the same as it did when I first saw it with my mother, or grandmother, 68 years ago. That was when I hardly knew language. My memory of it is purely visual. That is the way it was when I was first learning to walk. My mother and grandmother lived in houses side by side there on the bluff, a short distance away. Maybe my first sight of the tree was from a baby stroller, before I could walk.
Directly at the base of the tree, on the other side of the masonry wall, is a large boulder. This is the exact spot where the "Indian Lady" stood as she looked out toward the southwest toward the Falls. Many years later I learned that her name was Priscilla - her "white man's" name. She never spoke to us, and would only glance at us for a moment maybe. She was always dressed in a long flowing dress that rippled like water when a breeze was blowing. Very long hair tied back. Quite distinctive in appearance from all the other women I had ever seen in those early years of my life.
How many lifetimes has this tree been here, as measured, or judged, by a human life?
Look carefully at the surrounding basaltic boulders which encloses it and protects it. Look at the moss, the lichens covering the boulders. Has this small area remained undisturbed for 500 years? Or a thousand years, while everything surrounding it has been changed over by human hands. Look at the VFW building beyond it, where the U.S. flag is flying in the background. Since I first saw the tree, the area around that building has increased its presence by adding a huge parking area which comes right up to within 20 feet of the tree, on the south side.
Then there is the paved path, which may have been only been stony grassy path along the masonry wall many years ago. I think it may have been; it seems that it was difficult to walk the path beyond this point because of the stones and grass at your feet, except for a narrow "deer trail" that you could easily navigate if you were young, or very careful. Now the path is nice and smooth, and even lamp posts have been installed. I don't think they could have possibly been there 68 years ago. I believe that the smoothest part of the former pathway ended about a half block away to the north, where it turned onto High Street where the Minit Market is located. And that's the route that most people went, but you could venture past the well trodden path and continue on past the tree without much of a problem, but too bumpy and difficult for a baby stroller, or an older person to walk. Why is the masonry wall there anyway? It wasn't there before 1930, when you could just walk to the edge of the cliff and fall over the side … but then again, was it even a cliff before 99E went through this part of Oregon City?
So much basaltic stone had to be blasted away during the construction of 99E that its almost unthinkable. I think before that time, it was "walkable" from the tree right down to the bank of the Willamette River; I have done it myself when I was less than 30, about a mile or two south, beginning at 99E and going right over the other side of a metal guard rail, where the slope is steep, but it can be navigated carefully from the sloping hill to an outcropping of basalt here and there, right down to the river. The elevation would be about 300 feet from the road to the river, across a railroad track. But it was not a sheer cliff, it was a steep natural incline.
That little island of stone where the tree is situated has remained intact, I believe, for over 500 years. Maybe a thousand years or more. How old is the tree then? A tree of the same kind, and about as tall, was recently cut down just next door to my house in Gladstone. That was 24 June 2019 (see > Chapter 10 "Good Tree People" - this thread). That tree was not even there in 1968 when our family moved to that house. This tree in Oregon City, I can promise you, is much much older than that one, many times over. So you can surely not judge the age of a Big-leaf Maple just by looking at the size. This tree in particular is not growing in deep soil. I would venture to say that it is not growing in soil at all.
A closer look begins to reveal the place where the two trunks converge - but first, look to the left at the brown dried remnants where the very unusual ferns were growing, when we (my cousin and I) visited the place earlier in the year. And someone unfortunately has painted their rude (beyond rude) remarks (tags) on the face of the boulders. Aside from that, the age-old layer of moss and lichen still remain mostly undisturbed, as it has for all this time. This, being my time of 68 years, quite short compared to this. So block out the tags and the background building and you can glimpse a scene of how it looked to the first people.
Over to the right just here, up against the masonry wall and rail, is the cleft boulder where the "Indian Lady" used to stand. The moss and lichen tell the story. That's why I now carefully study both. For instance, you can walk through a cemetery, which we had done earlier in the morning, and I pointed out to my cousin the different degrees of mossy accumulation according to the ages of the stone - easily determined from the dates on the stones themselves.
Are these two trunks of the same tree, or two different trees growing together at the exact same spot?
I could photoshop this to erase this desecration of a natural wonder : the "tags" sprayed on the boulders, but it's a call to the Protector and a testament; far worse could have happened before this. We need Protectors to protect ourselves from ourselves.
Peering through the cleft boulder ...
… I'm thinking that we have traveled beyond the age of paper-making, and the two Great Mills formerly at the Falls are no longer in existence; Crown Zellerbach across the river …
… and Publishers (which became Blue Heron Paper Company) on this side of the river … are forever gone. Now I hear that the Grand Ronde people (Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde) have taken possession of the old abandoned Blue Heron mill
Now moving closer to the base of the tree, or trees, I can carefully study the huge buttressing where the trunk emerges from a fissure or cleft in the "stack of boulders", or the basaltic outcropping - I don't know the the exact geological terms to use here, but it is basalt (a type of lava of volcanic origin). What I'm mostly concerned with is the age of the tree (or trees) and whether this is one single tree that sprouted as a seedling and one of the shoots ran up between the boulders to become the other trunk; or if these are coincidently two different trees that happened to sprout up at the same time and place, years and years ago?
From a couple more feet to the south, the two trunks with the huge globular mass (burl) at the base of the lower trunk is in plain view.
On the right side of the burl is a cluster of "saplings" emerging from it (on the south side) - if one of these saplings were to find a fissure and run up inside it, it could become another trunk eventually.
A few more feet south past the lower trunk, this cluster of saplings is (or are) more visible, and only inches to go toward a fissure for one of them, which may seek out a place deep within the boulder to establish itself. If left alone and undisturbed, and given enough time …
In this same pic, just to the left of the lower trunk is the base of the upper trunk where is disappears into the boulder, blending in with the moss-covered rock so well that you have to look very carefully.
I have decided that this is a tree which originated as just one seedling, which diverged at an early age to become two trunks. Whether or not that is correct, they have taken a parallel path for so long that they are really one entity - just looking from a distance they appear as a single tree.
I was commenting to my cousin that there is really no soil that they can grow in, other than what may happen to fall into the fissures or openings in the boulders from above. So the growth must be very slow and gradual. And this tree must be of great age.
A diversity of mosses and lichens, and a species of sedum growing on this boulder; each has its boundary. Not a mishmash.
Protectors : we need this special place as a model for the time when so much of the Earth has to be made over … where the Spirit is Alive …
… so much left behind, abandoned and rusting, after its usefulness is over. Dead. Now it must be disposed of, at great cost of time and effort.
In another time, unimaginable on this perfect day, when the mills were running you could never see a day like this, looking upriver to the south. The air would be filled with a great cloud originating from the mills, and so much sulphur in the air that it would burn your eyes; and you could taste it in your mouth.
The pedestrian bridge crossing over 99E as someone takes advantage of this shortcut over to the other side, to another sidewalk down below. A little used portion of the highway at this location compared to the time when this portion of U.S. Route 99 was the main road of travel, running from Canada to Mexico, before Interstate 5, and Interstate 205.
Looking north, downriver, at the expanse of the mill below. The concrete "arch bridge" (or Oregon City Bridge) and a portion of the I-205 Abernethy Bridge (in green) is partially visible beyond that. A portion of the cleft boulder where Priscilla (the "Indian Lady") stood, is at the right side of the pic.
My cousin. So nice of her to have brought me here on this "perfect day" as she repeatedly said. This is only her second visit to this part of the promenade. The first visit for her was only a few months ago, with me. Reason : way back then, grandma told her something … probably not to, because there's no reason to, nothing down there anyway, and she might get lost. Notice where the wall and railing take a sharp incline downward, where the yellow stripe is on the pedestrian path. That may have been "the point of no return" back in the day …