My heart is heavy as I write this tonight, 20,000 acres of my ancestors ceded lands and the very fir trees they once lived beneath, are burning to the ground. Not only is the Columbia River Gorge some of the most beautiful land in Oregon venture in to and photograph, it holds a special place in my own heart. Did you notice the red moon across the country Monday night? Many of you likely took a photo of it like I did here in Louisville, Kentucky. It was breathtaking but today I was devastated to learn the moon was painted by the tragedy in my home lands and across the Northwest.
As of now, the Eagle Creek fire is completely unconfined as dry heat and high winds cause it to grow at record speeds. The blaze spread 13 miles in 16 hours the night of the 4th sending its flames to merge with the Indian Creek Fire and across the border into Washington State. More than 70 plus landmarks and popular destinations for photographers worldwide are within the perimeter of the fire. The fires scorching the Umpqua National Forests are so bad that 200 active duty soldiers are being trained and sent in to fight alongside 1,000 brave firefighters. Around an inch of ash has fallen over the city of Portland, a 30-minute drive from the Columbia Gorge.Crews and residents including my mother are comparing the ash to the volcanic ash that fell in the area during the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. It was the deadliest eruption in the history of the United States. Sadly, this tragic loss was started unnaturally by teenagers throwing fireworks into a canyon on the Eagle Creek Trails.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife released 600,000 Chinook salmon into the river from three hatcheries in the area in order to save them from falling ash that would have killed them. As the salmon flood the rivers to escape the fire, thousands of photographers who have visited the legendary Gorge are flooding social media with their images in remembrance of the land before the flames. Take a look at what's been shared HERE.
The falls and Lodge rank as the #1 visited natural attraction in the state with 2.5 million visitors to the epic falls each year. They travel thousands of miles to stand in the presence of her 600 feet of rushing spring water that flows underground from the Larch Mountain. Out of fear that the historic lodge underneath the falls may catch fire, photographs are removed from the walls ahead of time. On top of steep cliffs, firefighters worked relentlessly overnight to save the lodge and the Largest waterfall in Oregon. The area is scattered with natural miracles, another is supposed to come tonight in the form of the first thunder storm the Gorge has seen in months.
As I grieve with the rest of Oregon and photographers around the world I searched everywhere for images from my last trip to the falls. Due to my lacking photo organization at the time it may take a few days or weeks to uncover them. For now, I will share this phone photo of my mother (Sorry Mom) in front of the iconic Oneonta Tunnel that is now burnt all the way through. Last June was the last time I got to see the Gorge. I was beginning a long drive all the way back to Kentucky, I spontaneously decided to take the scenic route out of Oregon along the Columbia river, and I'm so glad that I did.
Although I find the emerging photographs of the fire and her sunset colors beautiful, I am devastated that when the fire is done taking she'll leave us with gray lifeless remains of the forest. For decades to come photographs taken of this sacred land will look nothing like they used to.
My ancestors have a legend about how Maltnomah Falls was created when the chief's daughter had to sacrifice herself to save the tribes from a plague. The Princess climbed the cliffs of the Gorge until she reached a high cliff overlooking the water. She spoke out loud to the great spirit before jumping to save her people and becoming Maltnomah Falls as a symbol that she has entered the spirit world. Her words give me chills as the fire that is currently sacrificing 20,000 acres of her land, spares her and the lodge below as it passes to destroy everything else.
“You are angry with my people. Will you make the sickness pass away if I give you my life? Only love and peace and purity are in my heart. If you will accept me as a sacrifice for my people, let some token hang in the sky. Let me know that my death will not be in vain and that the sickness will quickly pass.”