Dam's end may restore Rogue's feeling of refuge

This is my last summer to enjoy the "lake" — this wide, flat section of the Rogue River above Savage Rapids Dam. The last summer to have my toes tickled by the shimmering green water as I sit on my lawn watching the baby ducklings and goslings paddling past with their parents.

The battle over salmon's right to unfettered passage has been won. For better or worse, the old dam is coming out. And any day now, the summertime lake will be gone for good. I wonder what it will be like here then.

Some say removing the dam will reduce our flood risk. Others say it won't have any effect in the winter months when the water turns muddy and brown, flowing swiftly toward Grants Pass. Others say the mighty Rogue will become a scant little trickle in the summer.

"You'll be able to walk right across it," my neighbor has said.

Today a couple paddles past in their blue and gray kayak under sunny skies. A black and white border collie sits smugly between them. Across the river, my neighbor's dogs catch sight of this activity and begin to bark.

Their owner often takes them out in his little skiff, waiting as the pack bounds into the water, then scrambles into his boat. The short-legged corgi always needs a boost.

I first saw this section of river a decade ago — only weeks after my husband died. Aching. Lonely. Lost. I fell in love with my little cottage on the lake. And found a place to heal.

My perfect sanctuary. Or so I thought.

But life on this particular stretch of the river isn't always serene. A much beloved recreation site, the lake has long drawn owners of jet skis, jet boats and all sorts of noisy toys who enjoy this easily accessible area for everything but its tranquility.

It's not that I can't appreciate how much fun they're having. Or don't understand their right to have it. But their numbers have grown considerably over the past decade. So have the number of recreational lots sold and developed into paved parking pads.

For the past several summers, up to 80 campers have descended upon two vacant lots adjacent to my place. For three weeks their engine noise adds to the dozens of jet skis and jet boats regularly roaring up and down this short, straight section of river. Morning, noon and night, the racket from their engines sometimes rattles my windows.

"It's like living at a watery monster truck rally," I kvetched to a neighbor.

Watching the ospreys, bald eagles, great blue herons and other wild birds attempt to hunt up food for their broods while navigating the human horde was upsetting. Watching some of the motorized joyboys slam their jet skis smack into the sides of scrambling Canada geese or deliberately do donuts on top of frightened baby ducklings was downright infuriating.

I consoled myself with thoughts of retribution. But limited myself to hollering from the banks about the $1,000 fine for harassing wildlife.

Then some son-of-a-gun took a poop in my dingy. Seriously. Literally.

"I'm going to end up in the felony convictions section of the Mail Tribune," I muttered.

This summer, just as things were hitting peak occupancy (and lunacy), I bolted to Orcas Island. According to my brother, they don't allow jet skis in the Puget Sound. Good enough for me.

When I got back, I was calmer and the crowds were gone.

There are still a few folks making rooster tails in the afternoon. But the noise is down to a dull roar, as my mom liked to say.

The mornings are quiet and peaceful. The nights are, too. It's the best balance I can hope for in these last days of the lake.

Mom loved it here, too.

The river usually appears to be flowing backwards in this section — upstream toward the town of Rogue River.

The steady upriver breeze makes tiny riffles dance with the wind. I was never able to convince my mom that this was an illusion. And I've never been able to convince myself that noisy toys have any place in my sanctuary.

I guess it's all about perspective.

I can still feel Mom's presence — and I try to remember her wisdom. In her 90s, she'd sit out on the deck and wave to everyone.

"Look at them all having fun," she'd say.

Shrieking children being bounced along on giant water toys were her favorite. I used to tease her that the unholy din didn't bother her because she was deaf as a post.

She'd smile, and accuse me of being a child-hating, anti-social grouch whom only a mother could love.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.

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