SCAPPOSE BAY KAYAKING
Trying something new and risky takes courage, but if you’re convinced that it’s right for you, the risk can often pay off with unique adventures.
Safety is everything when Steve Gibons, owner of Scappoose Bay Kayaking, gathers paddlers together on the dock at Scappoose Bay Marina.
Chris McOmie and I joined Steve, his wife, Bonnie, and a half dozen other adventurers for a daylong kayaking excursion.
The first step: we slid into the cozy confines of the small cockpits of a smooth sided 14-foot long tandem sea kayak.
We listened intently as Steve explained a basic rule of kayak recreation: First, a reassuring fact: more people tip over at the dock than any other place on the water – either getting in or out.”
Many of our fellow paddlers were like us – relative newcomers to the recreation and to this stretch of Multnomah Channel at Scappoose Bay.
It’s a place where tide and weather can change in a heartbeat.
But on this gentle fall day, the bay and the nearby Columbia River were smooth and calm, so no need for us to worry.
Instead, we used our time to practice the basic forward and reverse paddle strokes that Steve taught us – paddle strokes that we would soon put to good use.
“We’re going to paddle out of Scappoose Bay and down the channel,” explained Gibons, the lead guide for our afternoon paddle trip: “Our ultimate goal will be the northern end of Sauvie Island and a beautiful little area called Cunningham Slough. Remember, this is not an Olympic event – it’s all about taking our time and enjoying the wildlife that’s in the bay itself.”
Finding a comfort zone on the glassy water came easy on a day that was filled with fall’s glory – clear skies, a gentle breeze and outgoing tide to ease our downriver journey.
More importantly, our small group of paddlers seemed to have the river all to ourselves on a stretch of Columbia River backwater that’s largely overlooked by most folks.
Steve explained that low water conditions kept the motorboat crowd off this area of water:
“Since sea kayaks draw only four inches of water, we have easy access into tiny bays and sloughs – it provides a unique opportunity to see many different wildlife species like herons, eagles, osprey and black tail deer.”
Bonnie Gibons is also a partner in the decade-old kayak rental and touring company. She explained: “Unless you get out into nature, you can’t experience it. Kayaking is the best way to experience wildlife because we are so quiet and can slowly paddle our way up close.”
Fellow paddler, Randy Wiltgen, said that there are hundreds of miles of watery trails across the Portland area – plus, many more miles along the coast – protected from wind and bad weather:
“You often feel like you’re a million miles away from people and yet you’re not! And you see so much that you never see from shore – so many wildlife species allow you to get really close. It’s exciting!”
It is certainly that – and much more – a time and place where nature’s touch restores your soul.
ALL OREGON BOAT
When you sit between the oars of an Oregon classic called the “Driftboat,” you slide across rapids, slip past boulders and leave all of your troubles behind.
For local boat builder Ray Heater, you also touch Oregon history.
“Oh, the drift boat is really a special type of boat the represents the state of Oregon. That has always attracted me – why don’t I build something else? Because I’m a fisherman and I love to float rivers and I’ve never seen a craft that can perform as well as this simple boat.”
Heater builds wooden drift boats in his Welches, Oregon shop; a business called Ray’s River Dories.
He’s the last to make a living by cutting, drilling and hammering doug fir and cedar into boats that take people down rivers.
Heater’s career spans more than four decades and it has been built upon a boat design that’s all Oregon.
As he and I recently stood admiring a pair of boats currently under construction in his shop he told me: “These are steelhead drift boats that can go in the back of a pickup and they really are a part of a tradition that began a century ago.”
Drift boats were spawned on the McKenzie and Rogue Rivers in the early 20th century and at first, the boats hauled supplies.
By the 1940’s anglers paid big money to fishing guides like Woodie Hindman who would take fishermen, called “Dudes,” down rivers to catch fish.
Heater noted, “It’s really a floating platform for your camping and fishing gear – that’s really what it’s all about.”
Heater added that the all Oregon boat was distinct because it safely rode atop the waves.
“Oh man, they can provide a piece of ballet – water ballet! Those guys between the oars would just dance across those waves with the oars – it’s a rush – a real rush…I mean I like to fish, but I like to run that whitewater.”
Ray Heater is not alone in his quest to protect and preserve the “All Oregon Boat.”
He explained: “People will say, 'you should write something down about this.' And I say, 'Oh boy, that's going to be a tough one for me, I’d rather build a boat than write about one. Well, then along came Roger Fletcher, who walks into my shop one day and says, ‘I’m writing a book about the river boat. I thought, 'You are the man.”
Roger Fletcher never thought of himself as the man to save a chapter of Oregon history – he just likes the shape and feel and history of wooden drift boats.
He builds them too – models - that are scaled down versions.
“They basically require the same technique of a person building a traditional drift boat – just smaller. There isn’t anything fancy about it, but when you look at the lines of a Mckenzie River drift boat, there isn’t a prettier set of lines
Fletcher has had a love affair with drift boats since a boy. Today, he is the author of a new book called “Drift Boats and River Dories,” that tells the story of the earliest boats that were developed for Oregon rivers.
He calls the drift boat design a “unique contribution to the boating world” and adds that few people know about them although they’ve likely seen them and perhaps been lucky enough to even fish in one.
“It’s the crescent shape and a fellows like Hindman, Veltie Pruitt and Prince Helfrich who designed and originally built them. They all fell in love with the design because it assumed the crescent shape of the waves. Plus, people fell in love with the ride.”
And who wouldn’t? Today, drift boating’s popularity has spread across the country. The “All Oregon Boat” can be seen on rivers across the country, wherever there are rivers waiting for adventure.
Now, thanks to Roger Fletcher, more people will know of the boat’s important past.
“My hope,” he added, “is that more people will see more of these traditional and highly functional and beautiful boats out on the rivers. It’s tough not to fall in love with this boat. If a person hasn’t been in one – gets in one, has a day’s experience in one – he’ll be back.”
Each spring, there is an annual gathering of wooden drift boats and their builders on the banks of the McKenzie River. It is held at Eagle Rock Lodge and offers newcomers a chance to learn more about the boats and their lasting place in Oregon boating history.
DOWN BY THE OLD MILL STREAM
There’s simply nothing like what you’ll find “down by the old mill stream” at Thompson’s Mills State Heritage Area.
When Park Manager Doug Crispin tells the unique tale of Oregon history at one of the newest state park properties the 19th century comes to life.
It is history that dates back more than 150 years to a time when leather belts wrapped wooden wheels to move augers and elevators that carried grain that gave life to the earliest settlers of the Willamette Valley.
It was a time when the Calapooia River produced hydropower that moved all manner of machinery at Thompson’s Mills near Shedd, Oregon.
Martin Thompson owned the mill for much of its life and even built a Queen-Anne styled cottage next door.
But it was the gleaming whitewashed grain silos and the towering five-story mill that marked the site for miles around.
Crispin said that Oregon State Parks and Recreation Department was so impressed with the treasured landmark that they bought the mill, the cottage and the surrounding property a few years ago.
“Every time I walk through this mill and see the axe marks on these original timbers, it comes alive to me. I just marvel at the craftsmanship, the hard work and the ingenuity of our pioneer ancestors. Plus, the fact that it still stands today.”
Restoration efforts at the site continue and offer hands-on exhibits that show you how tons of grain was moved and then milled with giant limestone millstones.
It’s a remarkable site with many hidden nooks and crannies according to Crispin, who added it is: …“the sort of place that demands exploration.”
Thompson’s Mills flour was shipped across the country – even to China and Europe. Parts of the process offer homespun memories for visitors who recall the double-life of cotton flour bags.
“They were recycled and made into aprons,” noted Crispin. “Or tea towels by thrifty farm wives during the Great Depression and World War Two. Folks were recycling the old flour bags long before it was fashionable – back then it was simply more practical.”
It’s a site that holds on to history and it is even more amazing when you consider that it was all built by what Crispin termed, “Saddle Back Engineering.”
“All of this – the mill, the cottage, the machinery – was built and put into place long before GPS, long before aerial photography, laser levels or any modern technological help. These people figured the whole thing out by cruising the neighborhood on foot and on horse.”
It’s a wonderful step back into an earlier time and place that’s pretty much like it was – and that makes it all worth a visit.
THE NUT MAN OF WASHINGTON COUNTY
On the family-owned “Lewis Century Farm,” the hazelnut harvest takes place in a cloud of dust.
It’s a dirty job down a gravel lane in Washington County, where Mark Lewis carries on what his great grandfather started in 1905.
While the passing years have seen more and more “new” machines added to the his farming operations, some machines haven’t changed in decades.
For example, a stone’s throw away from the Lewis hazelnut orchards, that rise and fall across the gentle rolling hillsides, there’s one particular machine that cleans the nuts just like it did after World War II.
It’s a monster of a machine with wheels and gears that go round and round to carry pounds of freshly harvested nuts that go up and down on belts with conveyors that eventually roll into large perforated cleaning drums where the nuts are showered and sprayed and cleaned with water.
“You have to get all the dirt washed off,” noted the longtime nut man. “And sometimes it gets awfully muddy, so the more drums, the more nuts you can wash. This one works just great!”
In fact, all of the old machinery on the Lewis farm works great.
Mark makes sure of that – not just the nut cleaner, but a nearby “sorter ‘n sizer” that shakes the hazelnuts from side to side and picks out the “blanks,”(shells that don’t contain the prized nutty meat) to a massive walk-in forced hot air dryer that dates back to 1927.
Inside the dryer, warm, 90-degree air blows 80 miles per hour.Flats full of hazelnuts will slowly dry out in the large room so they can be packaged and shipped to varied worldwide markets.
Back in the 1920’s, there were scores of dryers just like this one on farms across Washington County. But today, his is the last!
In fact, Lewis noted that his is one of just two operating family owned dryers left in Oregon. (It is used to dry tasty plums into prunes as well as hazelnuts.)
But it’s the cleaning machine that usually gets the twice over by visitors to the family farm.
That’s easy to understand! It’s just so much fun to watch.
Longtime chef and local restaurateur and all around Oregon adventurer, Leather Storrs, figures it’s simple: if you want to harvest wild mushrooms, learn their habitat.
In the Tillamook State Forest – where sun and shadow dance through the towering Doug fir trees while Storrs’ well-trained eyes are fixed down close to the ground where there’s a culinary reward.
“Ohhh, there we are – chanty number one – it’s always good to get off the dime early,” exclaimed Storrs with a hearty laugh.
Chanterelles have a golden-orange hue and their chalice shape make them hard to spot – but their allure is a woodsy flavor that’s hard to resist.
Since 1999, the gorgeous fungi have been Oregon’s official State Mushroom.
“As soon as you see the first one,” noted Storrs. “There is this chanterella-vision that allows you to see that unique sort of peachy-orange color, but with the weather change and the alder leaves turning yellow on the ground it’s getting trickier.”
Chanterelles are not the only mushrooms in the forest. Storrs, an experienced mushroom hunter said that there are dozens of other mushrooms that grow here and most are none too friendly to people and many are downright dangerous.
“When you’re doing it without knowledge and confirmation, there’s no reason to take any chances. I learned in culinary school an old saying:‘There are old mycologists and there are bold mycologists, but there are no old, bold mycologists.’
Leather Storrs may not be an old, bold mycologist, but he is one of Portland’s finest chefs.
His restaurant, the “Noble Rot,” set in NE Portland, is where Storrs has mastered the art of cooking a wild chanterelle recipe that can be with many other foods.
He cleaned an approximately one pound of chanterelles – (he never washes them in water but prefers to clean them off with a soft rag or brush) and he also prefers smaller, button-sized mushrooms.
Storrs then proceeded to slice them lengthwise, (he likes to preserve their overall shape and size as much as possible.)
Approximately one pound of the wild chanterelles hit an oiled (olive oil) pan with a “bounce, sizzle and snap.”
“Chanterelles are one of those things the really depend upon a hot pan,” added Storrs.”
While the mushrooms cooked, Storrs finely diced one large shallot.
When the mushrooms were nearly done, in went the shallots and two chunks of butter. And more:
“I’ve some big beautiful parsley here that I will chop and add near the end of the cooking time – along with a small amount of lemon juice.”
Meanwhile, from out of the oven Storrs pulled a cracked egg that was nestled inside a rich, grainy bread – It was warm and toasty and called ‘Egg in a Hole.’ Soon, he smothered the dish in the richly cooked chanterelles.
“That’s one way to treat a chanterelle ragout,” noted Storrs. “Not only is this a dish of the place and seasonal, it’s also virtually free.
Storrs is a big believer that the meals that you contribute to are the most rewarding – that is, the ones connecting you and tie you to the source of your food. There’s something exciting and magical that comes about when you find it and prepare it and when you share it with friends and family – I don’t think it can get much better.”
The Oregon Department of Forestry allows you to harvest up to one gallon of wild mushrooms on state forestlands, but any more than that, you are considered a commercial picker and must buy the $100 permit at any state forestry office.
Storrs stressed critical safety points if you choose to head into the forest at this time of year – First, pick only mushrooms that you know are safe. If you don’t know go with someone who is experienced and does know or take a mushroom ID class. (He suggested the Cascade Mycological Society.)
Storrs also suggested that mushroom hunters who are in unfamiliar territory stay close to the road and never out of earshot of the road traffic.