The Sandy River: It may be gross, but it’s home

Perk up your ears. If you listen close enough, through the burbling whishes and tumbling roar, you can hear the sweet whispered nothings of the Sandy River. She calls you.

She called me, wiped away the suffocating late-summer melancholy that lies like a blanket over my every waking moment, lit the bulb above my melon, and woke me up. A quick call to Theo (he’s free Saturdays, he’s hard-core, and he has wheels) and it was on.

The Sandy is not “clean.” Neither is it “peaceful,” nor “forgiving,” nor “tame.” It is lovely at first glance, but scary, like a blonde truck driver with flames tattooed on her forearms, and like her it is easily placated with a fifth of whiskey and some ginger ale. And while she is just around the corner, over the bridge and through the woods, I’m afraid you’ve forgotten about her. Don’t.

Gourmets describe a good bottle of wine with a loaded lexicon of terms like earthy, fragrant and gulpable. Describe the Sandy in the same way and you’ll be embraced by fun-loving, low-budget adventurers and bush-whacking, fly-casting highbrows alike. The Sandy is a nice bottle of wine: heady, luscious and colorful. As we watched some funky bubbles swirling in a back-eddy along the bank, the painter in Theo was inspired. “Mmm, brown and white on green. I gotta remember that.” His palette will never be the same.

Supposedly, the summer steelhead and Chinook runs are heavy right now. That’s what a guy pulling on some hip-waders in the front seat of his Chevy said. He suggested we cross a bridge over a little nearby creek and follow it down. We were sure to see some big fish, hugging the cutbank and lurking in the shadows, he said. Wrong. Deer tracks and Busch cans and an old, browned pair of tighty whities, but no fish. The creek had a name, but we changed it, christened it Dung Flats Creek with a swallow of Beam, and followed it down, feeling anadromous in reverse, slogging down the creek to the river to spread some love.

The Sandy is green, deep pale green, like pea soup in a Lowenbrau bottle. She is warmer than you’d expect, more pleasant than a sprinkler, but scarier, too. The demons in her depths are not your imagination. They are real. The Sandy takes lives, turns simple dares into death threats, steals carefree youth and returns nothing. Every summer, fun becomes terror. Don’t cross the Sandy River. She doesn’t care one way or the other.

Surprises always seem to sneak up on you at the Sandy. I guess I was surprised I didn’t see more mullets than I did. In fact, we couldn’t play a fair game of Slug-Mullet until McDonald’s presented us with a handful of opportunities on the way home. Also surprising, the Sandy was deserted, except for three girls in bikinis and a couple of dudes floating the sparse rapids on fluorescent tubes. The girls split when we parked ourselves on the rocks. I can’t remember where the dudes went. The river can do that to you. She washes memories away like Mountain-Fresh Tide.

After a while, after we’d finished the bottle and swam across the river and thrown some rocks and jumped and jumped and jumped, we halfheartedly departed. A $40 ticket sat evilly under Theo’s windshield wiper like a coiled timber rattler. Maybe we should have followed the random instruction we’d received down on the rocks: “Always take off your wipers so they don’t have a place to put the ticket.” Forty bucks. Thanks a lot, Mr. Officer Man. You can try to spoil a good time, but you’re foolish if you think your little parking ticket is going to ruin my day. I hope it made you happy, cop.

The river disappeared behind the trees, and so we bade her farewell. The goodbyes went further for me, though. I better include them all.

Goodbye, Portland State. I love you and your urban chic. Thanks for the parchment, baby.

Goodbye, Southeast Portland. I hate your meth labs and your home invasions and your nightly sirens and gunshots, but I love your soul. Southeast is like a bad kid that keeps screwing up, but has enough promise that you have to just bite your lip and wait it out. Southeast is like me.

Goodbye youth.

Good luck, Orion. We will all miss you beautiful chops and colorful stories. Don’t worry, we’ll keep it up. – The VG