Friday, September 10, 2010

Latourell Falls

images from Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area, OR, February 2010

Latourell Falls is, for me, right now, my favorite waterfall in the world. Considering how much I love waterfalls, how often I seek them out to visit, to make photographs, to listen to their voices, that's saying a lot. Latourell Falls is not most the famous falls in the Columbia River scenic area near Portland, OR, nor the most visited; but for me it is the most sublime, most beautiful, most personally beloved.

The falls are set back in a slot canyon carved from the native basalt, carved like all these falls, like the Columbia River Gorge itself carved by the giant Missoula floods of the Pleistocene.

If you want impressive size, go visit the most-visited falls in the area, Multnomah Falls, which is also the most "developed," with an inn, tourist attractions, shops, and other amenities. Go to Multnomah if you want the tourist experience; seek out Latourell if you want to be alone with the elements.

Whenever I enter the canyon of Latourell Falls, it's like stepping into a Japanese Zen meditation garden. The walls of the canyon and green and black, rich with living things. They are sculpted as if by an artist's hand, with trees and fallen boulders placed just so. The falls themselves are heard before they are seen; even in winter, with most of the trees bare, you get only glimpses until you are hear at hand, partial views that almost seem designed or planned. The everyday sounds are lost under the sound of water falling 224 feet from cliff edge to bouldered foot. The falls make the world silent. The trail twists back into the canyon a couple of hundred yards, then passes near the foot of the falls, across a wooden bridge over the creek, and up the other side of the canyon.

For me, Latourell Falls are perfect in every way. Not too large to be able to absorb, sublime rather than spectacular, hidden back in the canyon away from the casual eye, therefore less crowded, more contemplative, more meditative. You can be alone in there for long periods of time.

I can spend hours at the foot of these falls. I've made some of my personal favorite photographs here, the personally-chosen images I've printed large and hung on the walls of my home.

Here, I am refreshed, I am renewed. Walk in, spend time by the falls, walk out changed, recharged, made whole. Just breathing in the cold misty air at the bade of the falls is a balm.

The world outside is lost and forgotten as though it had never been. Even after you leave the falls proper, the world is slow to reassert itself, giving you a space before you must come back to yourself. The transition is gradual, like a pilgrimage, like walking the labyrinth, like entering and exiting sacred space. It takes time to arrive, time to depart.

This is a sacred place. A place of power, of delight and healing alike. The spirit of this place is alive with green life, dark with old beautifully-shaped cliff rocks, dark with the eyes of the magic of silent deer, bright with the goldfinch's wing. This is sacred time: there is no time here, only a shard of eternity.

Every time I pass through this part of the country, I stop in to these falls for a visit. And when I leave, I go on with life, with whatever journey I am on, renewed, refreshed, my mind stilled and cleared, calmed and replenished. Healed. Remade. Bouyed up by whatever power there is, that supports and bears up all life.

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Blogger Elisabeth said...

The idea that falls might have a voice is new to me, Art, but of course it makes the most wonderful sense.

I can understand why you might revere these falls, their grand majesty.

Suddenly incapacitated I seem to see all these place that I could not possibly walk through with fresh eyes. an inner voice says, will you be able to walk there one day, if you wanted, or will you never walk freely again.

Nonsense, of course, but such fears drift through my occasionally troubled mind.

Thanks, Art, for these exquisite images of this sacred place.

3:29 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

I sort of feel like I stumble with really inadequate words. I can't really describe it. The sounds of the falls create a silence that's better than any of the words. Each waterfall has its own voice, made by the rocks, the height and type of the falls, and all the other elements, the shape of the land. In one way, it's all white noise, in another way no two falls sound alike.

12:36 PM  
Blogger Mary Scriver said...

These are also my fav falls in the world. I've visited them since I was old enough to walk and as soon after WWII rationing was over as we could resume drives up the Columbia River Gorge. My father's albums have black and whites of the falls, but no color I think. No matter. It is woven into my nervous system.

Prairie Mary

3:36 PM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

Hi, Mary—

Glad to bring up some good memories. I love hearing your stories about the falls.

Of course Portland is like, right there, less than 30 miles from the Falls. So I think it's really cool that they're so close.

11:08 PM  

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