From Cedar Creek to Seattle

Mark Twain, while passing through Portland on his way to get somewhere else, mentioned that he enjoyed the scenery he had seen from the train window and that he could have easily placed Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn in the Portland area. The comment was especially striking to me because when I read Tom Sawyer I kept seeing my older brother and his friends in the story. They were sailing Cedar Creek instead of the Mississippi, and not quite so successfully, but with almost the same air of excitement.

The problem with the rafts my brother and his friends built is that they didn't stay afloat very long. I wanted to tag along on their adventures anyway, but of course little brothers never get to Go Along. And even if permission had been granted, I would not have passed muster. Aside from not knowing how to swim, I also believed in God. My friends and I all went to Saint Paul Lutheran School from the First Grade on and there was not an atheist among us. People who believe in God do not risk their lives or break the law the way my brother did. You would never see us fishing up and down the creek ignoring the NO TRESSPASSING signs, or hop skipping across those marshes where the cows mire, dodging pellets from each others' B-B guns.

I was left out except one time when there was heavy lifting to do. My brother had seen the Liberty ships that my dad worked on during the War and so he built a raft of metal instead of wood. He said I could help him drag it down to the creek and I was happy to comply. I was sure he'd let me have a ride in it. He said I could. But the moment it was launched, it sank straight to the bottom of the creek and remains there to this day. "If I'd caulked it on the outside instead of on the inside it would have stayed afloat." my brother-- who has since helped design space craft that will someday sail to the perimeter of the Solar System and beyond-- only recently commented.

Uh huh. I learned that if you want to go along, it is sometimes better to go along in spirit...

There was a globe of the World in our house with little white arrows all over the oceans. "Doesn't the creek flow into the Tualatin River?" I said. Of course it does, my brother replied.

"Does the Tualatin flow into the Willamette River?" I said. Of course it does.

"Does the Willamette flow into the Columbia?" I said. Of course it does.

"And doesn't the Columbia flow into the Pacific Ocean?" I said. Of course it does. All rivers flow to the sea.

I traced the path of arrows that ran back and forth on the blue areas on our globe. "Can you launch a raft from the back of our prune orchard and sail it to the Celebes Islands?" I said. The question didn't deserve a reply.

Oh yes, it is we who sit on the river bank of life... we who are consigned to watch others sail away on their own adventures... It is we alone who understand the True Significance... the Real Meaning... behind the things other people do. The oldest stories in the world are about rivers. The Epic of Gilgamesh. The story of Moses and the crossing of the Red Sea. In the Bible, just after the world was created, there were four great rivers flowing from a single garden: The Niger (with the ancient trading city of Timbuktu on its northern shore), the Nile, the Euphrates, and far to the East the sacred Ganges. Religious people talk about rivers all the time. The hymns about rivers are especially pleasing. "I'm going to lay down my sword and shield, Down by the river side. And study war no more..."

Cedar Creek bordered one end of our farm. The other end was bordered by Highway 99. The highway was different from the creek, but in terms of flow and congestion it was rather similar. In the Summer, our family placed a fruit stand made of a three quarter inch sheet of plywood and two wooden apple boxes a few feet away from the highway pavement. People with California license plates on their cars would stop. They would stare through their dark glasses at us and at our strawberries. With their cigarette smell and bronze colored skin these people had a very different sense of humor than other grown-ups I was familiar with. If I said something like "Thanks for buying our berries. They're not much good anyway." they would turn and ask me what I meant and some of them even wanted their money back. Arguments like that never happened with Sherwood folks and they certainly never happened down by the creek.

When I was eleven my family moved further up this highway and we became citizens of the city. The city was very different from the creek or anyplace else in Sherwood. On the creek bottom you could wander about, caked with mud, singing Ninety Nine Bottles of Beer all day long if you wanted to. In the city you were always on display. You were surrounded by glass in all directions: Hundreds of glass windows with faces appearing and disappearing in them like lights in a science fiction computer...

Parents would appear from behind the windows sometimes and threaten to beat you up because you were tall for your age and you wore blue jeans with the cuffs rolled up and you said something to their loud mouth snotty little kid that they heard across the fence. I began to yearn for the creeks and rivers around Sherwood then... where voices like these are drowned out by the mighty warbling of the birds.

These days there is a lot of effort going into saving the rivers and streams around Sherwood. There are scientists to pay attention to in order to gain a more sophisticated understanding of Cedar Creek, but I would rather not have my opinions cluttered with too much factual information. In my dreams I watch corpses of Indians climb out of the quicksand to reclaim the arrow heads that my family used to store in the attic, and I have felt their long nailed claws reaching out to pull me in. That's far enough for me. That's all the further I need to go.


Copyright 2005 by Clyde List

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