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Meander Scars

Reflections on Healing the Willamette River

Abby Phillips Metzger

Publication Year: 2013

“Metzger’s keen insights spring from a lifetime of direct observation while growing up along the river and recording its most subtle changes and the impact of the scarring in the eco-region it passes through. Written with passion and grace, the book is, in a sense, a love story for a once-wild river now tamed. Metzger asks, ‘Who gives us permission to intervene?’ She concludes that in the great web of history, nature will ultimately decide, and that we humans are left only to imagine.” —Carol Ann Bassett, author of Galápagos at the Crossroads: Pirates, Biologists, Tourists, and Creationists Battle for Darwin’s Cradle of Evolution

Abby Phillips Metzger’s book of personal stories recounts a forgotten Oregon river, the Willamette, as it was before white settlement. Once a rich network of channels and sloughs, the Willamette today bears the scars of development and degradation. Yet, through canoe trips and intimate explorations of the river, Metzger discovers glints of resiliency: a beaver trolling through a slough, native fish in quiet backwaters, and strong currents that carry undertones of the wild Willamette. Together with tales from farmers and scientists alike, these experiences lead Metzger to ask whether something scarred can fully heal, and whether a disjointed river can be whole again.

A story of re-discovery as told by a learner, Meander Scars will appeal to readers of literary nonfiction, river advocates, naturalists, and outdoor enthusiasts interested in sustaining healthy river systems for themselves, their children, and beyond.

Published by: Oregon State University Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-6

Maps of the Willamete River over time

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pp. vi-viii


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pp. ix-x

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pp. 1-6

I live by a river that flows through a broad valley between two mountain ranges, a river called the Willamette. Many times I’ve sat at its banks skipping stones, or strolled down a nearby footpath flanked by maple and ash trees. I’ve walked the riverside path with my family since I was a little girl. ...

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The First Sighting

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pp. 7-16

I am out before the sun, but a morning glow pours across a line of trees on the Willamette’s eastern bank. Splotches of leaves have turned burnt orange and blazing yellow, spreading like a brush fire through the cottonwoods, maples, and ash. Lacy mist weaves its way upriver. ...

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Blinking Island (The Meaning of Change)

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pp. 17-24

I am late for work and pedaling fast on my bike—past the old railroad tracks and the BMX bike course, pumping hard to make the small climb to the footbridge. I make it up the hill and pass the tree where I once flushed a sharp-shinned hawk. Zipping across the bridge, I look to the right, through the metal railing and out to the Marys River as it weaves into the Willamette. ...

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Shards of Beauty in a Fragmented Landscape

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pp. 25-32

There are at least two ways to get in a kayak. If you have the guts and grace of my husband, you will grab the lip of the cockpit, nose the prow into the water, and kick off into the current with nary a splash. If you are like me, you will read books on how to use your paddle as a balancing device and practice on dry land before hitting the water. ...

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The Many Truths a River Tells

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pp. 33-48

The two of us are paddling the Willamette. The earth is dry from the sun’s whisper, and a glow that feels not quite like fall casts light on the wings of a thousand midges. It’s the end of the day, the time when dark shapes come out and scurry among the deadfall along the shore. Slinky-framed minks crawl hurriedly yet without sound. ...

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pp. 49-56

Water tumbled over my head. All I remember is the shock of it, not the cold, but knowing that I had fallen in, that I had tipped my kayak and spilt my things in the Willamette. Dear Mother of God, how will I get to the shore without being swept downriver? It wasn’t a question I asked but felt, my whole body stunned into surviving. ...

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pp. 57-68

The computer at my work desk flickers on, casting a blue glow across my hands. I have come in to work early to see what an Alzheimer’s brain looks like. My grandfather is dying from the disease, and I want to know what is happening to his mind. I type in “Alzheimer’s” and search for images. The pictures haunt me. ...

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Story Mapping

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pp. 69-82

“The universe is made of stories, not of atoms,” says poet Muriel Rukeyser. If she is right, then stories form complex narrative compounds that build our bones and skin, combining in odd and wondrous ways as we grow. Around campfires and dinner tables, between two friends, and in the tight circles of teenagers, people share the essence of their lives— ...

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The Grief and the Gladness

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pp. 83-92

I made a new friend named Erika, and I was glad for it because new friends often don’t have the gumption yet to turn down an invitation—which is why Erika agreed to go kayaking when I asked her. We had met in graduate school and enjoyed sharing research ideas and advice on which classes to take and which ones to avoid. ...

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Trees, Weeds, and Rivers: The Work of Restoration

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pp. 93-108

The rain came as soon as I arrived to plant trees by the Willamette River. Everywhere I looked, other volunteers shrugged into jackets and shuffled to stay warm. I fumbled with my gloves, put them on, then took them off to see what felt best. It’s hard to grab a sapling and plant it with thick gloves. ...

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The Daily Braid

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pp. 109-126

Against a gray sky, the only obvious color is the screaming orange of our life jackets. Stray paddles and straps litter the dew-washed ground, and four deflated rafts sit like wrinkled skins waiting to be pumped up. A dank cellar scent clings to the air, a smell all of us will come to know deeply in the next four days. ...

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Meander Scars

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pp. 127-134

A leaf-littered path veers into an arch of broadleaf trees and conifers. The Oregon ash stand solemn with bare branches; the oaks—both Oregon white and California black—wave lichen-bearded limbs; and the Doug-fir bow under the weight of rain. The snowberries have pushed out their first pearls, but most everything else is de-leafed and twigged. ...

Bibliography, Resources

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pp. 135-141

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pp. 142-153

I am full of gratitude for the people who offered their wisdom and support during this project. First, to my husband, Ben: Thank you for not falling when I leaned so heavily on you, when I read you ugly drafts. Thank you for your gentle honesty. Thank you for asking me to go kayaking on the Willamette some years ago, ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780870717277
E-ISBN-10: 0870717278
Print-ISBN-13: 9780870717260
Print-ISBN-10: 087071726X

Page Count: 176
Illustrations: Maps.
Publication Year: 2013