On Dogs, Water, and Walking Under Bridges

Bridge Water Sky

Hayden Island is a spit of land that fingers its way through the western end of the Columbia River near the I5 bridge in Portland. Long ago this island was a sandy getaway for Portland's youth. There were amusement parks, parties, tragedies and heartbreaks throughout the roaring 20s and into the Great Depression.

Take a look. Glamourous, right?

Today's arial views make the island look to be an almost bucolic place. A beach-lined, treed island oasis straddling state lines. I don't walk here often, because the reality is that it's a city, and this is one of those weird, lonely places that only a city can contain. I'm not a paranoid person, but when I park along a sidewalk that ends in a sand pit and a pile of garbage out of someone's dumpster, I have to consider that my windows might be smashed in when I return. A littering of broken glass indicates that this has happened before. When I dip into a little ravine which cuts across the expanse before the beach, I can't help but brace myself to stumble into someone's makeshift home. And when I take note of the stern "NO TRESPASSING" signs and the warnings about sewage overflow that line the perimeter of the forested inland, I feel thankful that I remembered to wear my tall, waterproof boots, and I make a note to take them off before I enter the house when I get home. For a few long moments I wish I had a dog. Having a dog is a 'socially acceptable' excuse for a woman to be walking alone in this potentially threatening land. But also, I kind of want a dog.

Lonely is the best way to describe a place like this. Until you stop and hold your breath as you try to take in exactly how many crows are lining a particular section of beach. Until you are stopped again in your tracks by a heron taking flight in front of you. Until you smile with pleasure at the family of ducks coyly connected in a little cove created by a big pipe dumping into the Columbia.

The other side of the river is lined with barges, a wheat processing facility, silos. This side of the river has let nature reclaim it. Spring growth blends with the smell of creosote.

I walk to a point along the beach where someone has built a barge just offshore. It appears to be constructed of discarded material, and it's well covered in tarps against the weather. There's a tent inside a little sheltered nook, someone is living here.

I could live there

, I thought. A moment ago I was concerned about tracking river sewage into my own home.

Bridge Water Sky

There are dog-walkers along the beach. I only encounter two, but tracks are indicating this is a popular dog spot. I pass a woman with four very large dogs. She has them firmly under control and is walking them closely at her side.

As I'm walking back, another gang of dogs approaches. This time there are eight of them, half of them are attached firmly to leashes held by their walker. Of eight enormous dogs, one of them bolts from the pack and comes at me. Something about me is really, really bothering him. He seems like a bit of a pup, small and uncertain. But he's a big breed, and his bark is loud and insistant and really, really close to my face. Right now I'm so glad I don't have a dog.

The dog-walker is hurrying toward me, calling this little paranoid dog's name. I see he's a startlingly well dressed, handsome cowboy type. It feels like a full minute before he can reach me, and he's losing control of his herd one at a time. Suddenly I'm swept up in a flurry of big, big dogs. They're all at least as tall as my hip. They're all wet and running and circling me, barking, barking, barking, barking, barking. I've been accidentally caught in a vortex. I've been handed a leash to hold while my little nemesis continues to circle me and elude his human caretaker.

This is so strange


"Thank you for being so unbelievably fucking calm," the handsome dog-walker says to me as I smile and hand him back the leash.