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A Hundred Feet: Of Falling Water

WE left Whitney Valley in early October - four humans, one large shaggy dog, one short-haired cat, and everything we owned - in a pickup truck with sideboards and a car. We had trimmed our possessions by selling or giving away what we could manage without. We were ready to move on.

When we moved onto the Oregon ranch eight-and-a-half years before, Amanda was 2 and Juniper 4; so growing there had been a major part of their lives. They were ready for the next step in their adventure of living, but they wanted to take a long walk and say goodbye to the barn, to ever-happy land where the grass stayed green and lush all summer, to the house that was empty now of habitation but still full of memories, and to other meaningful places.

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After the man who owned that ranch and several others died, the people handling the estate laid off most of the crew. We found another caretaking position near Bend, in central Oregon.

There was time for thoughtful farewells. Laura and I also made the last rounds. The place with no electricity and no running water, only a hand-operated pitcher-pump by the sink, had been good for all of us. We weren't in a rush to leave.

Eventually, we gravitated to the vehicles, climbed in, and drove from the Blue Mountains of northeastern Oregon to Bend, and from there 13 miles to the 5,000-foot elevation on Tumalo Mountain, where we would take care of the water inlets for the city of Bend.

WE arrived on the mountain midafternoon and unloaded into a modern house with electricity and running water. Because the house had a washer and dryer, we had packed dirty laundry last. Before we made beds in our new home, we washed and dried sheets.

Though I had never missed any of the modern conveniences while we lived in Whitney, I appreciated them now that we had them. With clean sheets and showers all around, we settled for the night.

But even more impressive than running water and electricity was the 97-foot waterfall in the backyard. Bridge Creek tumbled and roared down the steep mountain and joined Tumalo Creek, which flowed rapidly down another canyon.

A few hundred yards above the place where the two streams blended their waters, Tumalo Creek leapt off an edge of eroded stone and fell straight down through open air before it found solid stone again to support it in its long journey oceanward.

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The waterfall, called Tumalo Fall, performed its dramatic plunge less than 200 yards from the backdoor of the house.

I wasn't surprised that the sound of the electric refrigerator clicking on and running, and the furnace clicking on and running, woke me and kept me awake. Mechanical sounds always have bothered me. What did surprise me was that the sound of the waterfall bothered me.

Even with windows shut for the cold autumn night, the steady roar of the falling water penetrated the well-insulated house. I lay awake hearing it and allowing it to occupy my mind until I couldn't sleep.

Relaxing and beginning to make the sound of the waterfall a part of myself was difficult - the sound of water striving toward the sea.

I spent some of the next day looking at and listening to the waterfall from different places. The next night, I slept - although throughout our time there I woke to electrical, mechanical sounds, because I couldn't incorporate those sounds into myself.

The waterfall fascinated all of us. Winter brought cold weather and shaded the waterfall from most of the day's sunshine. Ice climbed in front of the falling water and stood white from wall to wall of the vertical channel in rock.

Away from the falling water, where mist filled the air, frost rimed the ground. I found Juniper's tracks going farther under the steep cliffs than we had said she could go, toward the waterfall about two-thirds of the way up.

I REMEMBERED when I was young and adults limited where I was allowed to go, I went where I wanted to go anyway. I told Juniper, ``Be really careful if you approach the fall over icy ground. I am concerned that you could slip or that rocks in the cliff could loosen from ice freezing and thawing.

She said, ``I am really careful. I won't get hurt.''

A man who said he had climbed the frozen waterfall several years before asked me if I would call him if the waterfall froze over all the way up. He wanted to come out and climb it again. I sometimes hoped it wouldn't freeze; I thought it might be a little too early for Juniper to see someone climb the waterfall. She would want to climb it, and as a conservative parent, I thought that adventure could wait a year or two.

Tumalo Fall gradually froze until a solid wall of ice stood in front of the falling water, connecting the two sides of the channel down which the water fell. Then the days and nights warmed in preparation for spring, and the ice, closing off more than 60 feet of the waterfall, began to melt and eventually fell away. The waterfall was left clear.

By then I had developed the habit of leaving the window of the upstairs loft, where our bed was, open a little even on the coldest nights. That way, we could hear the waterfall better, and with the sound of the power of the water carrying steadily to me, all the mundane electrical sounds of the house didn't bother me as much. I slept easily through most nights.


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