Finding Wonder at Steigerwald

Finding Wonder at Steigerwald
On the trail at Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge, December 2016. (photos courtesy of Debbie Asakawa)

Monday, May 1, 2017

By Debbie Asakawa
Vice-Chair, Friends of the Columbia Gorge Board of Directors
Co-Chair, Preserve the Wonder Campaign

CORRECTION, May 26, 2017: An earlier version of this post stated that adding Steigerwald Shores to Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge will increase the size of the refuge by almost 50 percent. The correct figure is 15 percent.

For me, Steigerwald Shores is the most exciting property of the Preserve the Wonder land campaign. It will increase the size of the refuge by 15 percent and lead to a $20 million restoration project. I’m proud to know that our part of that effort—acquiring the land—is the most essential piece of the eventual restoration. And I’m relieved to say that Friends will not be paying for the restoration—those funds are already secured through various partners.

I’ve been to Steigerwald National Wildlife Refuge more times than I can count and each visit is special in its own way, but I want to tell you about one day that I will never forget. 

Early this past December, I was watching the weather closely and saw that the Washougal area was getting an early winter storm with a little snow and freezing temperatures. I was excited because I had no idea if this would happen again this season or even in the next few years. (Little did I know the kind of winter we would have.)  I called my friend and talked her into joining me on an adventure.
When we arrived, ours was the only car in the parking lot and for good reason: it was wicked cold and very windy. We figured the wildlife would all be hunkered down and hiding from the elements, but I thought the frozen ponds and thin layer of snow would make some nice landscape shots. 

Much to our surprise and delight, we found a solitary heron standing next to the one stream that still had a narrow ribbon of moving water. It had tucked its head into its shoulders and was standing there, statuesque, seemingly determined to stay in that position to ride out the storm. 

As we walked around on the trails, over the bridges, to the Columbia River dike and back, it seemed that a solitary heron was standing near us every time we turned around. I don't know if one heron was stalking us or if several were strategically located to monitor our movements, but it was wonderful to share the extreme weather and the quiet solitude of the winter with them.

We were often almost face-to-face and I remember looking into the eye of one of those herons and thinking, don’t worry little guy, we’re going to help protect your home here—we even plan to give you a big expansion and an impressive and expensive remodel.

Since that day, I’ve deeply appreciated the interface that people experience with wildlife at Steigerwald, which never fails to instill a sense of wonder. Each trip also underscores how important that area is for their survival. By doing something to help the wildlife, I think we also redeem ourselves just a little, bringing us a step closer to the planet we want to live on.
In closing, I want to share an excerpt from a William Stafford poem called Malheur before Dawn. He wrote it about eastern Oregon, but I think it also applies to Steigerwald:

Throngs of birds campaigned, their music a tent of sound.
From across the pond, out of the mist,
One drake made a V and said its name.
Some vast animal of air began to rouse from the reeds and lean outward.
Frogs discovered their national anthem again.
I didn’t know a ditch could hold so much joy.
So magic a time it was that I was both brave and afraid.
Some day like this might save the world. 


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