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The Pig in Winter

The Pig in Winter

We forced ourselves into turbo-cleaning the house Saturday morning — long overdue. Guests coming Monday mandated an end to our slovenly ways. Two hours of high-energy dusting, mopping, and wiping later, we were packing for an overnight yak trip, our first together since the summer of ’99.

Four hours later with only one false start, and we were launching from the ramp, eying the clear sky and a substantial tailwind, unanticipated in the confined waters of the Clatskanie “River,” hardly more than a wide ditch. Can’t imagine it over the banks, but in ’97 it roared and floated away the inventory of the stud mill nearby. Eight-foot number ones became the most common marine hazard in the ditch for weeks afterward.

A trio of goose hunters and the largest Chessy retriever we had ever seen slid back to the dock, one bird aboard but a dozen dekes lost to freighter wakes — an excuse for their return the next day.

With the tailwind pushing, we were soon on the main stem Columbia, an apple and a candy bar for fuel, feeling the soreness from turbo-cleaning and grinning at our good fortune. Sun in February? This is Oregon!!??

The big tide made for a direct route to North Dead Wild Pig Island and our fave campsite on the Columbia: a scatter of poles and blue tarp over rustic tables and a plushly-padded bench, relics of the ’97 floods. NDWP got its name from the failed scheme of a pioneer Tillamook-area vintner who figured folks would flock to luaus featuring roast feral pig, fattened on island vegetation and slow nutrias. He planted half a dozen porkers on the island to the south of NDWP, and walked, expecting to reap a “harvest” in two years. The pigs raised hell with the underbrush and made new pathways all over the island, but died off on their own, some say helped along by locals scandalized by the pig-dump. Hence, we attached “Dead Wild Pig Island” to it, to confuse the unwary about where we camp.

Freighter wakes wash over the downstream end of the island, making for sometimes-interesting launches and landings. A friend ignored our warning one time and swamped his vintage Folbot as we doubled over in mirth. Today, though, we are alone. An hour after landing, the tent is up, gear sorted, and firewood gathered for the barbecue. Lots of “downed” wood around, a casualty of heavy erosion of a grove of cottonwoods and alders — erosion which will soon take the campsite away.

Articulating spud-boiling and coal-building, we appetize with hot tomato soup and the Ritz experience. Broiled steaks complement Guinness, corn and the spuds, as we huddle around the fire, avoiding the breeze. When dinner is gone, a **huge** moon rises over the island to the her-luk of geese flying by, eying our beach but too spooked by the hunting season to share.

By eight we are enfleeced and in bags, listening to the throb of freighters slide by. We thrash about in the night, trying to share a double bag and fleece liners, abandoned after too-many bladder-break forays, as the sun rises to a well-frozen Pig.

Aaaaack! This is cold! Dave does the duty and nails the first of three Thermoses of coffee while Becky cracks twigs for a reeallly necessary warming fire, gloves all around and fleeced to the nines. Leftover potatoes and vegies topped with cheese and more coffee at the fire help us warm. Dave crunches across the frozen beach to greet one of the goose hunters and his friendly Chessy, returning to retrieve his lost dekes. A cup of coffee draws out a dozen war stories. I trade the legend of the pigs. He likes the story.

A long walk to the upper end of the Island shows massive erosion there, also, with some 150 feet of bank gone over the last three years. The Corps of Engineers has a new benchmark in the middle of the island, fore-runner of more dredge spoils, we suspect. Should we move it three feet and throw them off? No, too much work.

The sun warms and distills moisture off the tent, and Dave sheds to shorts and a T-shirt. An hour of packing later, and more freighter wakes, we launch for the return, helped back up the Clatskanie River by a hotly rising tide. Seals spy-hop, gulls squawk, geese her-luk, raptors swoop silently, and the cormorants on their way to lunch say nothing. We paddle and snack, paddle and snack. The soreness from cleaning is replaced with a pleasant muscle-buzz from paddling.

The Pig was kind, though cool. Long live the Pig.

Dave Kruger
Astoria, OR

Copyright 2000 by Dave Kruger.
May not be reproduced or redistributed without author’s permission.
Originally posted on Paddlewise mailing list on 2/21/2000. Republished with permission.