I wanted to write a song as a wedding gift for an old friend, and the location was Champoeg State Park, Oregon. Everybody is camping out— wedding goes well. Reception goes fine, too. Great.
I didn’t have lyrics though, so that part had to get knocked out, and since I can’t write normal lyrics, I decided to focus on the setting. This Champoeg area is an interesting spot. Its main feature is a giant meadow. Scattered around this meadow are posts with typical street names on them (Main, Elm, etc.). It turns out that the park is here because it’s the spot of the first incorporated town in the Northwest Territory, full of homes, businesses and a church, and was all set to be the capitol of Oregon someday. The problem is that the Willamette river sat 40 feet below it, down a nearby cliff, and one day the river decided to rise 50+ feet and wash all their nice work down to the Pacific. Oregon!
That’s not the most interesting part. The only reason this perfect place to put a town— a giant open meadow right near the river, even existed was because for a thousand years the native Kalapuya tribe had been systematically burning the brush, forcing deer to come out in the open on their way to the river so they could shoot arrows at them and have a big banquet once a year. The fires, and the occasional flood, also served to make the soil very fertile, and they would collect a root vegetable here that grew better than anywhere else. And fish in the river. That is, until the white man showed up with his diseases, reducing the local population from 15K down to about 60. Anyway…
So now this unique place, heaving with history, is a great place for frisbee golf and weddings. Nothing wrong with that. People have been hooking up and having dinners there for over a thousand years, and it just keeps on going, which is pretty cool. Now— the lyrics about the river/flood/boy being there or not being there is time/space stuff— the river may look like it’s been there since the beginning, but that was different water, different fish, even different rocks. Not the same river. The town and the boy don’t exist as far as you’re concerned. So the cliched wedding message for my friends is to stay in the moment. I just put it in a distracting package.
There’s nothing here now
But there is a river
A small canoe, the ghost of a boy
And a net
The fish have all died
Or been caught then eaten
And the boy is gone
Because you haven’t been born
The river’s not really there
It never seems to change
But it’s actually a blur
Because the river, she never stays
She’s always leaving
And as she goes
You’re just another ghost to her
There’s a marker by the shore now
But not really
For a town that washed away
If you were there
There are ghosts of streets,
The horses, and the buildings
And the flood that came and took them away
The river, it has a start
And then an ending
But it is never really there, it’s more of a “when”
The only way to ever really see the river
Is to close your eyes
and then you have to jump in
You have to jump in.
Here is an instrumental version, for those of you for whom synthesized vocals drive insane.
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