Occasionally a view, a sight, a glimpse at a most unexpected moment will bring flashbacks. It could be a grove of cotton wood on a sandy river flat, a grotto overflowing with sword fern, bracken fern, and maidenhair fern, or a gray, ovoid, water-washed river rock that provokes longing. I am moved by a timid doe, peering curiously but cautiously from a tangle of vine maple, a sandy path dappled with sunshine and the dancing shadows of leaves, or a fly-fisherman on the bank of a swift-running stream. Often it is the sight of a mountain brook rushing past a particular grove of trees beside a singular stretch of sandy beach that elicits a cry of "That reminds me of a spot on the Toutle!"
Sometimes it is an auditory stimulus that strikes a nostalgic chord. The gurgling of water cascading over and through an outcropping of rock, wind whispering and sighing in the tops of firs, hemlocks, and cedars, or the roaring of a log truck, down-shifting as it rounds a bend, are the sounds of home. The cry "Fish on!" from an excited angler or the shouts and laughter of children splashing and cavorting in a swimming hole remind me of the "beach," a calm, sandy spot on the river at the base of a fern-, moss-, and wildflower-adorned basalt cliff..
The taste of tart, red huckleberries, of little wild blackberries, so luscious and elusive, or the unparalleled flavor of fresh, firm-fleshed steelhead trout or Chinook salmon never fail to produce a bittersweet wave of homesickness.
When I step into water so achingly cold that 30 seconds ankle deep is enough to send me scurrying to the comfort of my beach towel, I think of those warm summer days when we spent the afternoons swimming in the frigid, glacier-generated waters of the Toutle. Only after our violent shivering produced spasms that robbed us of the control of our limbs, when our entire bodies throbbed painfully and we turned blue, did we climb out to lie on the hot sand. When the heat became unbearable, back we ran into the river. What delightful agony it was!
These sensory reminders are particularly poignant because the idyllic place of my youth is no more. The catastrophic eruption of Mt. St. Helens in May, 1980, forever changed the landscape. Although the Toutle River still flows stalwartly from its source on the devastated mountain, it is no longer crystal-clear, but even now, nearly twenty-one years later, it is murky and sediment-filled . Its banks are no longer lush with fir and fern, though alder, cottonwood, vine maple, and willow are gradually returning. The scarring and starkness from the mud flow are beginning to be softened by nature's effort to reestablish itself.
Near the spot where my home was located now stands a massive sediment dam. Its purpose is to restrain the river, allowing ever-present volcanic ash to settle into a sullen lake behind the dam before permitting the diminished river to pursue its course. They say it is necessary in order to prevent sediment from flowing into the mighty Columbia and obstructing shipping channels. To me, it is the further desecration of a once-beloved habitat.
Someone once said that you can never go back. How painfully true this is of my childhood home on the Toutle.
by Jan Bearse
....that crystal-clear, rough-and-tumble glacial stream I loved, the Toutle River.
Most often, it is an aroma that takes me back in memory to my childhood home on the banks of that crystal-clear, rough-and-tumble glacial stream I loved, the Toutle River. It might be the sweet fragrance of sticky cottonwood leaf buds in the early spring or the pungent essence of fir needles, released by the warmth of a summer day. Sometimes it is the slightly fishy smell, not unpleasant, that clung to the rocks and sand along the rivers edge, or the "green" scent of the verdant flora that grew so abundantly along the margins of the Toutle, or the perfume of blackberries oozing in the hot sun that have the capability of transporting me in time and place.
...the sweet fragrance of sticky cottonwood leaf buds...
...the pungent essence of fir needles...
...or a gray, ovoid river rock that provokes longing.
...a timid doe peering curiously but cautiously...
...the "beach," a calm, sandy spot on the river ....
...a fern-, moss-, and wild-flower adorned basalt cliff.
...the unparalleled flavor of fresh, firm-fleshed steelhead trout...
The author and her "little baby buzzer."
If you would like to see how the eruption of Mount St. Helens changed Jan's paradise, click here. Use the "back" button on your browser to come back to this page.