My Favorite Place

The light brushes aside the sky’s darkness and opens a new day.

My favorite place stirs itself awake in the dawn. It is quiet, peaceful, serene. But not silent.

The wind brushes between the needles of the pines and firs, with an occasional brief gust whispering good morning. In the distance, water tumbles over rocks into basins, while in the branches two squirrels chase each other noisily back and forth, each teasing the other in a mock battle for a tasty morsel, found, but not yet savored.

It is early, just light enough to see.

Walking slowly along the path, gravel crunches softly under my feet, and dew reflects tiny bright pinpoints of light, as if a celestial painting where space is green, not black, and the dew becomes stars, galaxies, and other wonders in this grassy universe.

Coming to a pond, I see rainbow trout. Freakishly huge, monstrous, circus side-show caricatures of trout, mocking the actual species. But then I realize that these aren’t freaks, they are the result of rainbows left alone, unencumbered by the pressures of man, well fed and languishing the lives of royalty, each a king or queen in the castle of their pond.

There are such ponds everywhere. Small, large, round, oval, the ponds meander; connected by a small gurgling stream and fit together as if a giant necklace of watery jewels were dropped carelessly onto the floor of the forest. There are ponds of Trout, Salmon, Steelhead. Ponds are everywhere.

Over there is a pond of brown trout, also monstrously large; 14, 16, 18 inch fish, so large that anglers would hide their catch, ashamed to show their weak little stringers, and leaving their exaggerated stories of the battle between man, fish, and line untold.

The largest of the ponds contain the pre-Cambrian leviathans. Some have grown more 10 feet long, unmoving, hovering in the water, majestic beasts of hundreds of pounds. I stare at these ancients, marveling at their size, thinking, wondering, mesmerized by their presence. Do they stare back? Are their fish-minds consumed with the simple cycle of only “Eat”, “Rest” and “Mate”? Or do they think deeper, more ancient thoughts, such as “We Sturgeon have been here for millennia, you humans are but a brief flash in our lives. You are unimportant”? Do they wish for freedom, or are they content in their small watery castles, where they have nothing to fear, all they can eat, and humans to care for their needs?

I’ll never know.

It’s too early for the people yet. The sun hasn’t quite begun to show itself, and most people just beginning to rise in Portland. Soon the dew will evaporate in the day’s warmth. The gravel will become crowded with people. Children will be running from pond to pond, giggling and wide-eyed in delight and awe, while parents wonder what to do for dinner, glad for a brief respite from the daily demands of parenthood.

For now, I am alone with the squirrels, fish, the grass, the trees, the dew and the water. There is just me. It is mine alone. I struggle to capture the scene in my mind, a fine painting wonderfully framed. A painting made up with the sounds, the smells, the temperature, the sky, the clouds, the dew-stars, the grassy universe, and the entire place and time consolidated into one forever moment carried with me like a treasured locket.

The frame of my mind-painting has a brass plaque at the bottom. It is engraved with the words “My Favorite Place”.

*authors note: I was successful in etching this scene in my mind, as it actually occurred in 1978. After this special morning, I made it a point to return often over the years. I’ve shown it to my children, and friends, and family, but sadly, you can never go back. The place still exists, however it has not remained unchanged. For example, you can no longer be onsite at dawn or dusk. It is closed to the public during those special times. The hatchery is now a major tourist attraction and has become pretty much over-commercialized and suffered the loss of some of its original charms. The ponds are still there, as are the paths, but they are no longer the simple special jewels they once were. They still contain the monster fish, though, and it’s still very magical and special to me – Especially when it’s quiet. — Jerry

Bonneville Fish Hatchery

Meet Herman the Sturgeon