Roll On, Columbia, Roll On

Astoria, Ore.  A version of this story first appeared in the “22 Rivers” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here

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Ray Roberson of Saint Maries ID finishes a set at FisherPoets Gathering in the Voodoo Room. Feb. 29, 2020. Astoria, Ore. Photo by Neal Moore.

When Jon Lee and his band Slimeline kicked into “Roll On Columbia” the tightly packed crowd at Astoria Brewing Company joined in. It was FisherPoets weekend at the mouth of the Columbia River, an annual gathering of grizzled fisher folk from Alaska to California who come to celebrate their craft with prose and poetry and song. Old and young here know Guthrie’s ditty by heart, and Lee, a descendant of over a century of Chinese cannery workers in Astoria, sang it with gusto.

But the Columbia no longer rolls – thanks in colossal part to the Grand Coulee Dam for which “Roll on Columbia” was penned – and this was Lee’s point: to encourage debate.

Lee had asked his friend Scott McAallister, a commercial fisherman from Juneau, Alaska, to interrupt him half way through. And so he did. The duo yelled back and forth for some time in pre-scripted fashion. McAllister arguing that Guthrie was a tool of the Corp of Engineers who never cared for the Columbia or the men and women who worked her. And Lee, that Guthrie, who could do no wrong, was being ironic.

“Ha, that would be the ultimate,” Robbie Law, Lee’s cousin and member of Slimeline, later told me. “To have the Bonneville Power Administration pay for you writing subversive lyrics.”

As big a boon as Alaska is for fishermen today, the Columbia River was once bigger. “It was just a wealth of big trees and salmon and water,” Lee said. “It should have sustained us. But we squandered it. It should have lasted forever.”

Lee’s friend, the writer Victoria Stooppiello, was born and raised in the Lower Columbia region. Her father, grandfather, and great-uncle were commercial fishermen their whole lives. In an essay titled “Denial is Not a River” she conjured the folly of over-logging and the damned dams and renewable energy through the lens of an economic enterprise zone.

Many of the professional fisher folk had a streak of activist in them. For they rhymed not only about the joys of the salmon runs of Bristol Bay, a region of Southwest Alaska, but the need for the EPA to reverse its recent verdict to allow the National Environmental Policy Act permitting process to consider mining it.

To once and for all disallow Pebble Mine, a porphyry copper, gold, and molybdenum mineral deposit project that will replace the sanctity of the salmon and these waters for the bounty that lies underneath.

Closer to Astoria, the presenters here assembled were passionate about the Columbia River, reflecting on the over-fishing that led to smaller fish and lessened runs, along with other obstacles the salmon now face.

As one fisher poet concluded at the gathering’s farewell event on Astoria’s fabled Pier 39, referring to the dams and the engineers who built them, “Sometimes it seems instead of one apple, we’ll devour the whole damned tree … So, it’s time to step back and take a long sober look, and conclude, Mama Mia. Let’s go back to the software, and try to come up with what’s really a good idea.”

‘Up the Columbia,’ and beyond: Paddler Neal Moore returns to the rivers on 22-state cross-country trek

Hood River News

By Kirby Neumann-Rea

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Paddler Neal Moore loads up his gear at Port of Hood River on Monday morning, with plans to spend another week in the Mid-Columbia before taking the Columbia east and north to Canada. 

Journalist and voyager Neal Moore is used to the strange looks and skeptical questions when he tells people he is paddling the Columbia River on the first stage of a solo canoe expedition overland to New York City.

“Why would you want to go to New York City?” a Montana rancher once disbelievingly asked Moore. In Hood River this week, he got similar reactions.

“I tell people, it’s not New York City itself — that’s the destination, It’s what I find along the way. I’m on the lookout for stories that connect and unite us, not divide us,” said Moore, who embarked aboard his fully-laden 16-foot canoe from Astoria on Feb. 9.

Moore chronicles his adventure on 22Rivers.com — a reference to the number of rivers he plans to follow, along with some overland portaging, to reach Astoria, Queens, New York in about two years. Moore said his timeline is open-ended, due to encounters with weather and water conditions he must prepare for, and the range of human contact he relishes.

With “22 Rivers, 22 States and 7,500 Miles Across America By Canoe,” Moore was en route east this week from Hood River after spending four days here. He planned stops in the Memaloose and The Dalles areas, and then to Rufus, where he will connect with friend Bud Herrera, a Umatilla tribal member who serves on the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fisheries Commission.

The new cross-country paddle is his second attempt; in April 2018 he traveled through Hood River and by autumn 2018 made it as far as North Dakota before his second boat and second set of portaging wheels gave out and he decided to regroup.

This year, he considered returning to the same location in the Dakotas and picking up where he left off, but preferred to do the entire route uninterrupted — more or less. Moore did break up his journey three weeks in by getting a ride from Cascade Locks back to Astoria in order to attend the annual Fisherpoets gathering there. He had friends reading at Fisherpoets, and learning about peoples’ lives and experiences on the river is part of Moore’s ongoing journey as a freelance journalist, film-maker and explorer.

“I know the recipe I found in Hood River County is that of collaboration and people trying to connect with each other, and in this part of the world, all up the Columbia, I’m finding that the salmon and all that it means is the central defining point,” Moore said.

He has also traveled the length of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers solo by canoe and has written extensively on the experiences, including the book “Down the Mississippi.”

Moore, 48, is a California native who has lived and worked in Cape Town and a total of about 16 years in Taipei, Taiwan, as a teacher and journalist. He returned to Taipei in autumn 2018.

Back on the Columbia and with 21 more rivers to touch, north and east, Moore plans to assemble new stories along the way, as well as circle back with people from Hood River County that he met and blogged about two years ago, including Gladys Rivera, who he met in 2018 and has since been appointed to Hood River City Council, the first Hispanic woman ever to serve on council.

Frequently asked if he plans a book or other compilation of his journey, Moore said he is open to the prospect but “I’m mainly in this for the experience.” He enjoys reconnecting with friends he made on the first third of the intended trans-continental route, and meeting new people and telling their stories.

His 22 Rivers route will take him to Trail, B.C. via the Columbia, and then south again via the Pend Oreille River, connecting later with the Missouri and Mississippi, then through a maze of southeast U.S. and Appalachian rivers back up through the Ohio River system, the Great Lakes, and down the Hudson — to Astoria, Queens.

A Community Rallying Around the ‘Other’

By Neal Moore

HOOD RIVER, Ore.

The Hood River Valley has a history of ‘others’.  The Finns of the late 19th century, the Japanese of the early to mid 20th century, and now those who identify as Hispanic and Latino. I recently spoke with a number of town leaders and bright light activists. Mainly women, both young and old, who are standing up in a unified voice of defiance. Here is a sampling of what they had to say.

Interviewed for this piece (in order of appearance):

Adriana, 23 – Adriana is “a Mexican that happens to be undocumented in the place that is really hard to be undocumented.” A student and activist, Adriana works nights as a waitress/bartender. “We’re on the verge of a revolution here,” Adriana told me. “Either jump on or get off.”

Paul Blackburn, 52 – Paul is the Mayor of Hood River, one of the few (if not only) Spanish-speaking mayors in the State of Oregon. Paul has formed the Latino Advisory Council and would like to see more Latinos on the city council and as mayor one day. He told me that “as the federal tenor and tone go the wrong way, it’s really motivated us to rally around our neighbors and friends and to work together for inclusivity in our city.”

Maria Elena Casmo, 44 – Maria Elena is a health policy analyst who immigrated with her husband Carlos, a civil engineer, from Chile. After five years in America, her status was changed from ‘non-immigrant’ to ‘immigrant’. She gained permanent residence in 2002. Regarding the current anti-immigration atmosphere in America, Maria Elena told me that people of color like herself, “Woke up. [That] they are not going to tolerate this type of speech.”

Montserrat Garrido, 16 – Montserrat, daughter of Maria Elena, is a Junior at Hood River High School who would like to become a journalist. She recently found her voice as a student activist at Hood River’s “MLK Day” rally. Montserrat has travelled back to DC for the Women’s March and for the Anti-Gun March with the students from Parkland, Florida.

Vicky Stifter – Pastor of Riverside Community Church – United Church of Christ. Vicky’s background is in the law. She has spent years on the Texas border working with immigration issues. A member of the community of Hood River for many years, Vicky tells me that if need be, her church has voted unanimously to shelter those in need as a sanctuary church.

Gladys Rivera, 28 – Gladys was born in Hood River in 1989. At the age of four, her mother (at the time six-months pregnant) was deported back to Mexico. She tells me that her mother took her by the hand and hopped back over the fence into America the very same day. While growing up, Gladys told me that she felt confused about her identity, that she “was never Mexican enough and never white enough.” Today, Gladys is an outspoken community member with Latinos en Acción (Latinos in Action) and the Latino Advisory Committee, amongst other groups. She is a mother of three.

Graciela Gomez, 47 – Gracelia arrived in America from Mexico at the age of 14. She wanted to attend school as a child, but her father told her that they were here to work. Graciela has cleaned houses, worked in fruit packing houses, and has picked cherries, pears, and apples. For the past 33 years, she has petitioned the government for a green card, which she received this past year. But she says it doesn’t mean anything when others in the community have yet to receive theirs. “If we don’t say something we are going to keep living in the dark,” Graciela told me. “And it’s time to bring a little light.”

Matt English – Matt is the Hood River County Sheriff. He tells me, “In our area, at least a third of the community is Latino, and so many of those people have some cultural differences that we need to work together to understand. And there has been a real push within this organization to build trust so that the Latino community is trusting of us.”

 

This story was made possible by Robert Coberly.