This article was written near the end of May, three days before arriving home in the Similkameen. It’s first draft was written after crossing the Columbia into Washington State. We were camped at the side of the great river, a few miles from the mouth.
Olalla Creek was a few seconds from my bedroom window. It is maybe a mile or two long at most, as it comes cascading off the mountain. A small mountain creek that provided water for a small mountain town.
As a child I dammed it, played in, slid through the culvert, watched it swell and turn muddy as it flooded in the spring. I played on the ice day and night in the winter, alone and with friends, stuffing plastic bread bags into our boots to keep our feet dry. One summer it nearly dried completely up. The pool below the culvert was full of trapped fish, which we caught in a pail and kept for a while in an old bathtub in the yard.
I would drink the cold waters, laying on the bank with my face in the stream, or bending carefully from a rock. Drinking deeply and slowly, the sunlight bouncing beautifully off the round stones beneath the surface.
Olalla Creek, babbling along , was my lullaby at night. In many ways, it’s song was the song of my childhood. It sang to me when I was carefree and it sang to me when I was glum. I think back now and wonder if it was simply another friend running along with me, ready to play any game I invented.
And like any friend, we had our moments. If they were bad, it was my fault. Like the time I filled my plastic model of the battleship Bismarck with gasoline and lit it on fire, bombing it with rocks as it floated along.
The creek would flow into Keremeos Creek, or the “crick” as we called it. The crick was maybe a bit more than a hundred yards from our house. This creek was the site of bigger adventures. Going fishing for the day. Hiking up to the old mineshaft.
The crick flows maybe ten miles or so to Cawston, where it enters the Similkameen River. This river, with the name of my valley, and my Indian band, is where I learned to swim. Beside it was my first home when I left mom and dad’s place. I love swimming here in the summer.
The Similkameen flows maybe thirty miles onward before it merges with the Okanagan River below Oroville, Washington, USA. It was in the waters of Okanagan Lake, upstream, that I nearly drowned, when I was a child. Sockeye fill the narrow channel with their crimson bodies and olive heads in late summer and fall, around grape picking time.
Skaha Lake is upstream, and I was born in Penticton, between it and Lake Okanagan.
The Okanagan, in turn, flows into the Columbia River. Years ago I took my girlfriend to hot springs that ran into the Arrow Lakes lakes, which run to the Columbia. She is my wife now.
After nearly twenty thousand miles on this trip, at nearly fifty years of life, I cross the mouth of the mother River. I look upstream and know in my soul that somewhere, hundreds of miles up there, is my home.
It occurs to me that the Columbia is the watershed of my life.
And I am going home.
Below: Camping near the mouth of the Columbia.