June 7th…“WAS THERE A PLACE, IN SOUTHWEST WASHINGTON, THAT TOUCHED HISTORY AS WELL AS YOUR FAMILY?”
The General Motors ignition key slid home into its slot with a metallic harmony as my Dad then gave it a twist and brought our 1967 Chevy II Nova to life. With that 6 cylinder engine purring like a kitten, the good old-fashioned AM radio crackled to attention as we heard it play the latest Country hit (“Daddy Sang Bass”) by Johnny Cash which filled us all with a smile as we prepared to leave Battle Ground for a day long excursion to our favorite family place.
Being new to the Pacific Northwest (after having moved from the farmlands of Minnesota), our family had fallen in love with the grandeur of this majestic new land we called home.
Being a fan of history, that I was, I felt like I was a modern day Lewis & Clark rolled into one excited teenager. Although, in our journey of discovery, we traveled with all the modern conveniences of freeway, new truck, etc.. Even so, I still marveled that we had traveled the 1,700 mile journey to Washington State to our new home in Battle Ground. Therefore, being the impressionable youngster that I was, I began reading the journals of those amazing men and greatly identified with the fascinating adventures of the Lewis & Clark Expedition.
Our whole family always looked forward to making the trip to that sandbar along the wide Columbia River near the town of Woodland, Washington. Mom often brought along her stationery supplies and would sit comfortably up in our Chevy II Nova writing letters to family back home in the Midwest while Dad would carry his fishing gear down to the river’s shoreline and set up for what was known as Salmon “Splunking”.
Salmon “Splunking” likely got its name from the sound the lead weight would make when it hit the water after a fisherman cast his lures as far out into the river as he could. Sportsmen would then stab a pole holder device into the sand along the shoreline and stick their pole into the holder. One didn’t need to stand there with pole in hand all the time, because the idea was to be at the “bar” fishing when the tide was going back out to the ocean. The current of the river was much faster then, and the movement of that current would make your choice of lure to “dance” in the water and hopefully attract a Salmon or Steelhead (large Rainbow Trout) fish. Lastly, my Dad (and other fishermen) would hang a small bell from the pole so that when a fish would “strike”, and run with the lure, the movement would cause the pole to jerk, thus alerting the fisherman to run for his pole and “set the hook” into the fish’s mouth for a catch.
At times, our father was successful in catching a Salmon or Steelhead (a big Rainbow Trout) . He always got a giggle out of showing his fishy finds off to our little nieces and nephews. On any occasion, though, our family was thrilled just to enjoy the great outdoors and watch life along the river. A jaw-dropping joy was to see the monstrously giant cargo ships that would ply the river on their way to, or from Portland, Oregon docks, and beyond. Those massive, ocean going vessels pushed so much water aside from their passing that there would be rolling waves of water curling furiously onto the shorelines in their wake.
In those days, along the river, there were plenty of woods to explore and treasures to find for my younger sister, Candice, and this older brother. And, when “nature called”, we’d just grab us a roll of toilet paper and find a secluded spot in those woods to “dooo” what comes naturally!! 😉
The windy wonders of this river were almost hypnotic to a boy who had spent his first 13 years on the flat farmlands of Minnesota. Whether enjoying this place with cousins and friends, or all by myself, I was always captured in a time machine, of sorts, as I’d gaze across the sun-sparkled waters of that river and envision my heroes (Lewis & Clark) as their company of explorers navigated their thirteen dugout canoes down this very river and looked upon these same emerald hillsides that I now looked upon also.
Over the many years, Woodland Sandbar became a happy destination for future generations as my own young family came to enjoy days at the Columbia River. We’d usually stop along the way to have a “snack attack” from a local gas station or food store, then on we’d go the rest of the way to play along that river, like I did when I was a teenager. We’d all enjoy the peaceful abandon of that serene setting that allowed the symphony of the waters to play a tune for us as those waters would “kiss” the shoreline while the setting sun created liquid diamonds dancing across the now amber waves of that magic river. Those times with family were poignant with simple pleasures in the abundance of simple play times and the simple wonderments of the beautiful world God had made for us to enjoy. Sweet, still, are the river memories of this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.