A Salute to The Rock Lady

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It is hard to know if you, me, any of us are seeing the whole picture. Creation says the Universe should be stable. Physics says expansion should be slowing down or reversing itself. Our most learned astronomers contend that expansion of the Universe is accelerating, driven by dark energy and dark matter which can’t be seen, but the effects can be measured. Supposedly the dark stuff comprises about 94% of what is around us, which means the brightest humans see about 6%. The rest of us probably see far less…or maybe…

Her name was Sylvia, but to most people she was known as The Rock Lady. No one I ever talked to knew anything about her, where she lived, or if she had any friends. She would simply appear as from the mist along the frigid winter river, often in the complete nude, bathing, swimming, or wading or just sitting bare naked blended into the shoreline scenery. She would disappear as easily. Shy and unassuming The Rock Lady concisely engineered and artistically rendered tall slim stacks of rounded grayish river rocks into statues she called “Rock People”. Together these “Rock People” formed silent communities called “Cosmic Harmony Generators” that often contained hundreds of individuals on the wide, flat gravel bars of the Sandy River in Oxbow Park. Many times, we would pass several on our floats through the canyon. Some would last for weeks or even months before floods carried them away. I made sure that my parties never intruded on her, and though we shared the same territory for nearly twenty years, I only talked to her once.

We landed on the shore of a bar covered by such a Cosmic Harmony Generator, and I walked toward a large, downed fir tree complete with a giant root wad deposited by an earlier winter flood. It would provide cover from my clients so I might relieve myself in privacy. I had taken off my rain jacket and wading belt, then pulled-down the long zipper in the front of my chest high waders to fully open when the Rock Lady popped up from behind the roots. We were less than twenty feet apart. She was completely nude. Her long gray hair covered one shoulder and small breast. The rest of her body was hard and lean with only a slight sag and texture of her skin betraying her age. Her demeanor was completely aloof and nonprovocative without the slightest hint of sensuality or self-consciousness. In a low but totally audible voice she thanked me for not knocking over any of her Rock People. I nodded and touched my hat, then asked why she worked so hard? She replied the Cosmic Harmony protected the little fish until the willows grew. I told her I didn’t understand. She simply turned her back and disengaged herself. I zipped my waders back up. Regained the other parts of my attire and decided I would pee somewhere else. I looked up. She was gone.

On the same float through Oxbow Park several years later more pieces of the puzzle finally emerged. I had parked my boat on a braided bar along a wide bend that trailed off into deeper faster water. My clients were disembarked, their angling paraphernalia dispensed, and my instructions delivered. Spring run-off was in full bloom with smoky-colored water running inches deep through the wide adjoining willow bar. Once again nature called, and I waded through the shallow running water and into the willows. Something moved slightly upstream from the stream of urine that caught my attention, it was a tiny spotted fish. Further observation disclosed others, dozens, even hundreds of them. I was standing in a school of Chinook fry, all holding with their tiny tails oscillating against the push of the currents or darting around in the shallow water amongst the willow stalks. Everywhere I looked there were little fish. My enthusiastic report to the clients was met with a cool WTF attitude that reminded me the take-out was just downstream around the bend.

Since then, my casual survey of submerged willow bars during spring run-off periods has convinced me they are important fish habitats rarely considered when permits for new riverfront homes are being let.

And what about The Rock Lady, a survivor of Ken Kesey’s Strawberry Kool-Aid Acid tests, a messenger from the distant nature worshiping Druid past, a lonely woman disconnected from society, or mother nature herself? After many years of observation, willows rarely do well in sites picked for planting by grade schoolteachers leading student groups to understand nature. They do much better in abandoned Cosmic Harmony Generator sites that often convert into vast tracts of stable willow bar habitat to nurture tiny fish

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