Stage 0

Pine Meadow Ranch Sunrise, Leah Wilson

Carolyn took me to the site of the former Sokol dam in the early morning before the trail became populated by dog walkers. I revel in the sunrise start and being on the trail before most people arrive, or even get out of bed in the morning. Although most afternoons were hot, the mornings were often surprisingly cool, if not outright cold. This morning was no different. The cool quiet morning was a time for reverie and as we walked, I could tell Carolyn traveled back to an earlier time I would never know.

The trail paralleled the creek. Carolyn would walk there regularly when she had a dog. The dog has been gone for many years and she hasn’t been on the trail much, if at all, since. She had once known the terrain well. But now from time to time she became disoriented. So many changes have taken place and the creek had a different character.

Whychus Stage 0

Whychus Stage 0, Leah Wilson

Most notably, the Sokol dam has been removed. Whychus no longer pools behind a solid concrete barrier – a major landmark of a time, existing for me only in stories, is gone. Once the creek flowed free again other changes began to take place. The Deschutes River Conservancy began a restoration project. Water no longer flowed near the trail in some places and Carolyn questioned where the dam had actually been.

When we hiked along the other side of the creek, the Whychus restoration project became more evident. The creek bed was wide and flat and there were little trees enclosed in “tree condoms,” the same type I had pulled out of the water on the ranch during one of my creek cleanup days. The trees were the only distinguishable signs for me then. It wasn’t until I visited a fully in progress restoration site in the McKenzie that the flat creek bed became another indicator. The Whychus floodplain had been reset to Stage 0.

Raw Material for Creation

Raw Material for Creation, Leah Wilson

The creek has been stretched back in time, erasing not only the human created erosion and damage, but also eliminating any chiseling the creek had done on its own prior to human intervention. It’s like shaking a giant Etch A Sketch until all evidence of previous drawings have been eliminated and the raw material is reset to a flat smooth plane where a new drawing can start to take form. The entire floodplain is flattened from bank to bank and raw materials – logs, root balls, and rocks, are brought in for the creek’s creative endeavor. It is left alone to choose its path and to arrange trees and rocks as it wills.

Detail - Memories of Running Free Like the Wind - 14

Detail: Detail Memories of Running Free Like the Wind #14, graphite on Dura-Lar, 4 x 4 in, Leah Wilson

The current will begin to form curves and bends. Water naturally forms spheres, When gravity pulls water out of its spherical shape and it begins to flow, it will continue to attempt to create circles. In its endeavors to draw circles, a Sisyphean task, it will instead create ever more serpentine contours. Some will become oxbows and others braids. Over time the creek will touch all of the available flood plain, dropping silt and rocks as it draws sinuous lines, etching new paths, and eventually leaving them behind to travel elsewhere to draw new graceful lines. Eventually the flat floodplain will be engraved with twisting and spiraling lines created in collaboration with the creative energy of flowing water interacting with geology and vegetation. The twists are evidence of the natural state of flux of water, a contradiction to the human attempts to straighten it and to keep it contained, controlled, and predictable.

Whychus Lookout

Whychus Overlook, Leah Wilson

There is a reason water is an ancient metaphor for unknown, murky and chaotic creative potential. It is a substance of death and rebirth, material for reflective reverie, and of horrifying power. Humans have made so many attempts to harness the power, to tame it and control it. It can be done for a while, but even harnessed water contains chaotic creative potential and energy that will eventually consume and destroy its constraints. We have become accustomed to controlled water, and it seems to take us by surprise when we lose control over it. It is inevitable and usually disastrous to human development when it happens.

As an artist I am intrigued and drawn to Stage 0 restoration. It makes sense to me to give streams and rivers the space and materials they need to creatively meander, build, and destroy. I become irritable and destructive when I am deprived of these things, why shouldn’t it be expected that waters will also become irritable and destructive when they are deprived of the same? Creativity is magic. Shaking the Etch A Sketch clean and inviting the creek to play restores magic and mystery to the waters. Perhaps doing this will reawaken the ancient relationship humans have had with water. Heal the creek, heal ourselves.


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