In anticipation of the upcoming release of Ricochet River’s twenty-fifth anniversary edition, our intrepid Ooligan team embarked for Estacada, Oregon, to tour the River Mill Dam. On the way to the dam, we met with our author and literary advocate Robin Cody. He guided us down the wooded road to his hometown—the inspiration for Ricochet River and the fictional town of Calamus—where we met with Terry, a retired Portland General Electric employee and dam tour guide. Terry and Robin were high school classmates, and they shared the small-town familiarity that is expressed so well in Ricochet River. They exemplified the sense of place that is central to Cody’s story and is explored through the natural aspects of Oregon’s historic fishing and lumber communities.
After donning our hard hats (and after one safety-conscious, handsome writer opted for the additional safety vest), we followed Terry across the upper tiers of the dam to see the hardware and the beautiful reservoir scenery. Terry provided history and fielded questions as we snapped pictures, bothered Robin, and milled about to explore the historic infrastructure that influenced the classic book of Oregon’s natural heritage. Then we descended along the downstream side to view the fish ladders.
We passed the older, unused fish ladder that once provided upstream access to migrating fish and wended across catwalks into the concrete passageways within the dam. Eventually we found ourselves on the main generator floor, stories below the massive weight of the reservoir. The generators rested in alternating service, some open for repair while their siblings spun in service to Portland, Estacada, Clackamas, and thousands of other destinations along the grid.
Passing to the exterior again, surrounded by misted leaves and the timeless passage of water below our feet, we traversed the foot of the dam. On the north bank, the new fish ladder wound below the walkways, our guides waiting patiently for clicking phones and city-kid questions.
After departing the dam, Robin took us out for lunch. Fielding even more questions as we sipped beer and pizza, Cody was informative and gracious, even tolerating inquiries into his involvement on the botched film adaptation of his novel. Finished eating, asking questions, and laughing over our leisurely meal, we took our leave of Robin and headed further southeast to the Clackamas River Trail. It was late in the day and overcast as we took to the trail in a herd, shepherded by a twinky-colored dog and fueled by Estacada’s finest cheesy pie. Thankfully our arrival time meant little foot traffic, with the trail clinging to the riverbank, eventually yielding a beautiful rocky beach. As night began to fall, we turned back to dry off in the comfort of the city.
Tasting the spirit and form of the Estacada landscape, and meeting the population that called it home, brought us closer to our work on Cody’s novel. Many of us will return to the town and trails of Estacada with a new appreciation for our title and a sense of connection to the story it tells. Maybe next time it will involve less rain, though certainly hiking and beer.