The outside world in Central Oregon is a paradox of hidden beauty, where the initial impression of a rugged existence in the volcanic landscape is merely a façade for the many amazingly adapted plants and animals that inhabit every nook and cranny of the forests, bitterbrush expanses and especially the riparian and river habitats of the Cascade Lakes and Deschutes River.
For me, the contrast of lush green sedges and grasses along the river's edge, crowded against anthracite-colored lava flows and, framed by creamy aspen trunks and ochre-puzzled pine bark, has been the place to find answers to the questions which, left unanswered, only multiply through the technology and pressures of society to crowd and trouble the mind. Since childhood the Deschutes River has been sharing its energy, calming my restless spirit and illuminating my understanding of this world we live in.
The river, with its own contrasting reaches of turbulent falls churning and rolling into gentle waves and eventually lazy meanders, has been my teacher, sacred text and monastery rolled into one.
Watching how water gently flowing downstream, when finding its path blocked by a rugged expanse of crusty lava, first pushes up and onto the immobile mass before rolling away, spinning and mixing with new direction and energy, is a lesson that could serve each of us well in these troubled times.
While it is perhaps cliché to acknowledge that life in the time of COVID has turned, twisted and transformed nearly every corner of Bend and the world beyond, we are nonetheless seemingly at the mercy of an uncaring and immutable force acting on each of us in different ways. This forced change of lifestyle and direction is asking each of us to examine our relationships with everyone and everything around us. At our best we might reach new understanding and appreciation of our environment and relationships. Remembering that, like water, we will likely experience a lot of turbulence and numerous direction changes before things eventually calm down again, is hopefully a reassuring thought. In the vast uncertainty of what lies ahead, it seems that also knowing that there is a safe, calm and comforting place to retreat, even if only a thought or memory, is a helpful realization to keep moving through the moment.
With much of the world forcibly locked in their apartments, I've been incredibly grateful that here in Bend we are still able to get outside, walk, ride our bikes, and put paddles into the water of the Deschutes River. Even if required to remain close to home, there are still so many opportunities to find calming space and get that much needed exercise, perhaps even an adrenaline or dopamine lift. We've perhaps never had more people actively using our public spaces, especially the in-town reaches of the Deschutes Paddle Trail. Hopefully you too are finding moments of peace and insight along our rivers and trails, forests and range land, through life lived outside.
—Jayson Bowerman is a former U.S. Freestyle Canoe and Kayak team athlete, Bend Paddle Trail Alliance board member and river recreation advocate. A maker of custom guitars and father of two, he can often be seen paddling his wife and sons around upper Mirror Pond "beach boy style" standing in the family canoe.