Saturday, November 10, 2007

Willamette R nr Oakridge

Ok, while I'm on streamgaging - hey I spent 13 years streamgaging in Oregon, Arizona and Washington - I'll talk about another gage, another time. Quite the opposite for a winter field trip. The Willamette River near Oakridge. It's on the same river as the Dexter gage but this one is above the reservoirs, and used to measure the inflow into the reservoir.

The gage is just off Highway 58 from Eugene to Oakridge, just past the halfway mark up the Middle Fork Willamette River valley, and often where the weather changes from the Willamette Valley (Eugene to Portland) to the river valleys. It always was the last gage on the field trip where I stayed in Oakridge for a few night to head back to the office. It was a nice trip ending gage. It wasn't an easy one, just an enjoyable one.

The gage and cableway has easy access and is easy to service. The cableway is about a 350 foot span about 40 feet or so over the river. You release the cable car on the left bank (facing downstream) to glide over the river to the right bank and begin the measurment. It's not unusual to get cold and rainy weather, but mostly the valley in the immediate area seemed to trap the warmer air so you may be cold but didn't freeze (your whatevers).

Well one day on the way back, it didn't seem all the cold, on the edge of rain or snow with a thick cloud layer. I serviced the gage and set up to measure the flow. I released the car and flew over the cable to the other side - something I always thought was the coolest feeling, free gliding over a river in a small car. When I got the right bank location, I lowered the weight and meter to start the measurement.

Measuring the flow is a fairly straight-forward effort. While keeping track of your distance to get the section and total width, you measure the depth of the water and velocity of the flow at selected places in the vertical profile. That's the science part of the work. The art of it is the on-going calculation to get 4-5% of the total flow in each of about 24 sections. My experience is that this is a skill you innately learn or not.

While on this day, as I began to measure I felt the temperature drop. Since you bundle up anyway to stay warm - after all you're sitting in a wooden car for one to one and a half hours - it's not hard to just zip the raincoat a little more. The more I measured the colder it felt. And then, in a moment, everything changed. It took away my concentration on measuring.

I looked up and noticed huge snowflakes slowly and quietly gliding down. All around. The whole sky was filled with slowly falling snowflakes, the biggest one I've ever seen in my life. Suddenly the whole world was silent. Like all the snowflakes absorbed all of the sound in the world, except for the sound of their falling. I could barely see beyond a few dozen feet except the faint view of the hills and the river.

I stopped my work and just sat there. I lost a sense of time, and even place, watching the sky with huge snowflakes filled the air around me. They slowly settled on everything, near and far, including the roof of the car and the two seats of the car. There was little wind so the snowflakes just fell, and a few into the car. I held my hand out and watch as it filled with the light snowflakes. They weren't cold, just snowflakes.

I don't know how long I watched and listened to the silence. I know I had to get back to work, and get on back to Eugene, but even after I finished the measurement I just stood on the bank of the river feeling the wholeness of the time and place. I've never had a similar experience, and doubt I ever will. Being overe the river in the valley all alone with the world, and in the midst of a sky filled with snowflakes and silence.

And they say streamgaging isn't fun.

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