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The aftermath of the Holiday Farm Fire. (David Geitgey Sierralupe/Flickr)

Perspective: A River Silenced

In a state filled with beautiful scenery, the McKenzie River Valley is one of the most striking, a crown jewel in a tiara of sparkling diamonds.

An offshoot of the winding Willamette River that beats through the heart of the state of Oregon, it is hard not to imagine one is in a deleted scene of The Lord of the Rings while paddling its waters or hiking through the foggy forests that crowd the riverbanks. Tall pines and firs stand proudly on the river banks, moss hanging from their long branches. Trout and salmon fill the river, their fast bodies darting through from the Pacific ocean to the rivers where they will lay their eggs, sprouting another generation that will feed humans, animals, and plants within this evergreen forest. Mist rises from the river, cold and soft, the way a pillow feels on your cheek on a cold autumn night.

As an angsty teen from Chicago who found herself at the University of Oregon, the Outdoor Program became my second home when I wasn’t studying, working, or at the Coastal Archaeology lab analyzing a never-ending pile of shell midden. The Outdoor Program was an exotic place for me, filled with piles of donated carabiners, endless free Clif Bars at the director’s desk, and all sorts of trips to sign up for, co-op style, on forms on the inner wall. My first experience was a rafting trip down the Lower McKenzie River with my fellow freshman dorm mate, Kathryn.

Man, I was hooked after one trip down that river.

Kristen on her kayak exiting Bear Rapids on the Upper Mackenzie river, a class III wave. (Courtesy of Kristen Vogt Veggeberg)

From the chilled air rushing into our lungs as we navigated the Class II and III rapids, to the ospreys angrily yelling at us to stay away from their fish, it was a magical, exhilarating experience, one I could have never have had in my urban-based childhood. From there, I threw myself into kayaking practice in the tiny pool in Gerlinger Hall on Tuesday nights and tried to make sure I was in a river every Saturday morning in the fall and spring.

Kristen poses in front of her kayak. (Courtesy of Kristen Vogt Veggeberg)

Though I paddled and dove throughout many of Oregon’s rivers, from the local Willamette River to the roaring waters of the Rogue River, the McKenzie was always my favorite while I studied at the university, with its lush forests, sneaky waves, and pristine waters crowned with gentle mist that always

seemed to pull away in mid-morning, like a bride lifting her veil. Kayaking in its waters was one of the many happy memories I have of my undergraduate years at the University of Oregon, and being able to learn how to navigate this river in a little plastic Waverunner took my senses – dulled from either too much studying, partying, or boyfriend drama – and always knocked new life into them.

The water of the McKenzie is snowmelt, and flows straight from the Cascade Mountains, filling your face with ice-cold water as it splashes through the rapids. However, if you see steam gently trickling out of one of the many craggy cliffs that form the river’s banks, quickly paddle up to it. Many times, you can drop your double-bladed paddle on your boat, press your hands against the mist escaping from the hole in the onyx-colored rock, and feel the soft heartbeat of the world within. For, within Oregon, you are in the Ring of Fire, connected to volcanoes and mountains across the Pacific Rim.

The fire was within the mountains, within the earth.

It was never meant to leave.