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The Daily Bucket–Forgive My Trespasses

9 min read

For starters, this  “No Trespassing” sign isn’t on private property.  It’s on Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation Lands that are open to the public as the Rock Creek Greenway, west of Portland Oregon.

Fortunately there are many anglers who are simply crazed about catching fish and who would wade through Hell fire for a chance at a 7-lb. bass.  They’ve criss-crossed this otherwise impassible area beyond the sign with several trails.

I want to look around on Park Lands behind that sign, checking for pollution.  There’s just a dozen yards of privately owned parking lot between me and Park Lands.

A few seconds later, I’m on the side of the sign where nothing’s written. But now a 10 foot cliff obstructs me.  I’m not an Eagle Scout like my son, but I did bring a few items.

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I rappel down the grassy cliff with a length of clothesline. I’m looking north, 15 feet back up the grassy cliff, towards the gravel lot.

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Then the LSD came on strong. Or the camera turned everything purple.

Now I am on an anglers’ trail, although mushy, and safely on Park Lands.  At bog level, I can see how a single creek channel may flow into a pond, but three channels will flow out. 

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Here’s another look at the cliff I just climbed down, looking from the south.  I came down on the yellow bin of trash. With my luck it’s 3 kilos of cocaine and I’ll never look inside. 

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I started in near the top of the photo, going down the cliff about where that long white trailer is parked.  This is an old photo and that equipment’s gone now and the building at the top is gone too. You can make out the Springville Creek main channel on the left. I walked along it almost to the house which the trees partially obscure.  Then I came at the house from the left, jumping the Stoller Creek channel, far left, ponds visible. But that greenery hides deep water and I turned back.

I hear and see a few Red Winged Black Birds, crested sparrows, towhees, and robins in the creeks and their wetlands.  Mallards, widgeons, and gadwalls cruise the quiet waters.  Too many nutrias (more than zero) nuzzle each other.

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Mallards rest on Muddy Island.

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The hawk commands the top of one of the very redwoods we are defending.  The little birds flee. I sent it mental messages “Eat mur Nutria!”  Sure an adult nutria is big but there are smaller young’ns all over. My reflex ID is red tail.

Two years ago, a developer demolished an asbestos-laden building and dug out two leaking gasoline tanks from the two-acre lot that’s now above my head at the top of the cliff.   They buried fifty cubic yards of soil that contained substantial concentrations of gasoline.  I wondered if the Oregon rains were rinsing the pollutants out of the lot, and towards the creek at the bottom of the cliff.

I slogged my way east, along the edge of the northernmost creek, nearest to where the tanks were.  I could see oily rainbows in the water ahead.

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I took a sample in a mason jar. I saw these oils pooled here and another site close by, I stirred it and it re-assembled more like oil than iron oxide.  

Thanks to discussions on Backyard Science, I am very cautious about mistaking  an iron oxide “sheen” for a true oil or gasoline sheen.  I can only call Action News 6 once about an oil “spill,” so I have to be right the first time.

Iron-rich soils leach out a rusty looking sheen that looks a lot like an oil spill.  It could fool you.

I’m looking for a friendly analytical laboratory to test my sample.

I walked the edges of the creeks’ banks, looking for other sheens, and finding a few. I’m learning (and naming) every square foot of a wetland; a Bucket List item since childhood.  Here’s Oak Island. Here’s Heron Pond.

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This is Stoller Creek, which flows north and then west. We’re looking east towards its headwaters. This portion of the creek is between windrows (gravel piles) that filter the incoming storm water. It divides into three creeks just behind us.  It’s a southern tributary to Rock Creek, via Bethany Lake.

Springville Creek is the main northern tributary through these wetlands.

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The headwaters of Stoller Creek; a 30-yard gap between houses for a quarter mile, brimming with storm water.

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The headwaters of Springville Creek are nearly at the top of this volcanic ridge, aka the West Hills of Portland. It joins with Stoller Creek to flow into Bethany Lake, and then into Rock Creek, a salmon-supporting stream, if given a chance.

I wonder if the old parking lot has settled and storm waters now rinse old oily residues that slowly drain into the Creek, near the sheen. But the sheen doesn’t smell oily.

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 This is the exact area where the station and mini-mart will go. The creek is 5 feet behind and 10 feet below me.
The tainted soil is buried top-center, near the yellow tree. Greying Cattails and rushes eagerly reclaim the pit left behind after demolishing an asbestos-laden building, in the upper LH corner.

Next I walked west on the Anglers’ Trail, still at the bottom of the grassy cliff, to a natural spring, or seep. It ran strong out of the grassy cliff wall, like a not-quite-turned off a garden hose; maybe a couple of gallons per minute. 

It even flowed last July.  I’m thrilled to come across an artesian spring. None of the developer’s consultants had noted it. It made all those blackberry flesh wounds worth it.

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The seep is much warmer, at 62 degrees, than the creek (44 F) or the rainfall. I took a sample.  The seep water is clear. Groundwater 10 feet down is usually 52 degrees  at this latitude. 

 Startled at its heat, I stepped back as if the warm seep were alive.  I’d seen frozen ponds with thawed edges  scores of times and never thought that warmer groundwater inflows may be thawing the pond edges. 

This trickle is far warmer than expected.  A nearby well test 70 years ago was 10 degrees cooler. Technically we are 200 feet up on a 1000 foot extinct volcano.  I imagine a city-sized lump of lava below, still smoldering like the last glowing log in the fireplace, under a half-mile of Missoula Mud, still warming the ground and this seep.

Since the vegetation has died back, I can see how a big section at the top of the cliff around the seep is settling. It’s not stable.  At the bottom, water’s coming out of a discrete hole at least a foot deep.  There’s other holes that are drainage paths; maybe from burrowing animals. The Station will have to put a retaining wall there but the earth won’t support it.  That cliff is shedding soon.

It will be illegal for me to say any of this in a public hearing.  The crime would be  “engineering without a license.”

Nonetheless, I feel like documenting the seep is like drawing a face card at poker.  My chances have improved.

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A good place for a nest; near a warm water source.  I’ll guess crested sparrow.

 In summertime, in other  ponds you could feel the colder groundwater (aka spring water) rising and chilling your dangling feet.

In Northwest Oregon, we usually get a couple weeks of freezing weather and often, snow.  I’ll peek at the seep in December and see if it’s still a tiny heat source and duck haven. Oh, it is December. Heh.

A brutal blackberry hedge blocked walking any further east, absent machete. Well beyond, there must be another hidden pond, where the heron seems to fade into grey smoke among the fading grasses.

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Billy heron pretended not to know me and kept far away.  The full whitecap indicates a mature Great Blue Heron.  I can’t believe this is the same heron that basked in the adulations of hundreds this summer, posing at the waterfall.  The heron moves between ponds now but I don’t see any fish in the water lately.

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A few robins were fattening up or hunkered against the cold.  I hadn’t seen robins in my yard very often for months.

I walked to these wetlands from the west,  near these oaks and evergreens, west of Bethany Lake. Of course I couldn’t pass up a chance to throw myself into the sticker bushes.  I took the jacket less shredded.

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I cautiously headed towards the big tree on the left.

West of the Lake four evergreens stand out among the leafless oaks. I decided to walk to one of the big evergreens and guess its size.

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It’s next to the power lines, so the western branches are all trimmed. 

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I walked to near its base. I figure an 8 foot girth.  I’ll guess fir.  The internet has factors for converting tree girth to tree age. So this one’s about 100 years old, if you believe the internet.   

I kept trekking east, towards the local version of the Ponte Vecchio Bridge.

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This bridge could have been worse. Fish can get under it. We’re looking east from the Lake. 
The wetlands and the sheen are on the other side of the bridge.

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This Douglas fir is on the proposed station site. It’s about the same size as the other fir we visited earlier in this Bucket, but it has cones.  The adjacent house is 80 years old so this fir could be a similar age.

In any event, I say a short prayer for Douglas squirrels and Firs. 

I’ve researched the land ownerships of this area next to the Park Greenspaces I’m trying to preserve against a gas station’s impacts. So I’m a little more confident high-stepping there than otherwise.  I’ve got Tax Lot maps if a cop comes by.

I’d never trespass on private lands except to look at an ongoing, serious environmental violation. I regret to say we’ve had to do it many times.  I’ll buy a drone soon.

Always leave yourself a way out. If confronted, Leave ASAP.

Of course we would never go into a restricted Park area.

The Bonneville Power Administration, Bureau of Land Management, private utilities, a cigarette and fossil fuels trafficker, and local governments all have easements and rights-of-ways for power and gas lines, that encumber these lands we treasure near Bethany Lake and these Creeks.

The developer pledges to convert an area the size of a parking space into wetlands, to compensate for cutting down century-old trees.

  But there’s already a creosoted power pole pounded into the pond there, amid power and gas line easements, and a stormwater runoff discharge pipe.  So the developer gives away nothing.  You can’t plant anything there, certainly not redwoods and firs.  You can’t even clear out the invasive bamboo from a pie slice of land with a gas pipeline under it.  

We want the Parks District to get the land.

We beat the Chevron Station once.  They may re-file.

It makes no sense.  There’s too many gas stations already.  But to the County, the herons and the ducks and the robins and the redwoods and the artesian seep matter for nothing. We’ll have to beat them over some cryptic County Code, but beat them we will. 

Thanks for reading the Daily Bucket.

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